For veterans, the prospect of returning from a war zone and re-integrating into society back home has always posed many challenges – especially when many returning vets were shamefully shunned when returning from Vietnam, and now as veterans of the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan have returned to a struggling economy.
That makes the mission of the new Gloucester-based Global War on Terror Veterans Coalition all the more important as it seeks to steer local veterans toward services while tackling issues like the high suicide and unemployment rates that have, sadly, become more and more prevalent in recent years.
And we can only hope that the coalition’s first “open house,” planned for Saturday at Gloucester’s Office of Veterans Services on Emerson Avenue, draws and reaches veterans who can make the most of the school and job counseling opportunities being offered.
Indeed, it would be nice to think that Saturday’s program — with representatives of Salem State University, North Shore Community College, the Lowell regional veterans center, the state Department of Veterans Service, a local veterans employment representative from Lynn, and more — could become a regular, perhaps quarterly service as more and more of our troops from Gloucester and Cape Ann’s towns return after serving and protecting us, both on overseas and domestic fronts. That would solidify and spread the word about this coalition, which has been created “by veterans, for veterans,” as Gloucester attorney and Vietnam veteran Mark Nestor put it, with an eye toward addressing these issues on an ongoing basis.
All of our veterans, from the remaining World War II survivors through those who served in Korea, Vietnam and El Salvador, deserve our thanks, and an accessibility to the kinds of services they need.
But those needs have become especially acute for veterans of more recent military operations, and those returning from the War on Terror — in all its incarnations — have not generally caught on with traditional veterans groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, and have seemed more prone to falling through the cracks of veterans services.
Our thanks and congratulations thus go out to coalition organizers like Nestor, Gloucester Veterans Agent Richard Barbato, Gloucester Army Cpl. Sebastian Mutchler and others for pulling together Saturday’s event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with time afterward for workshops and veterans’ questions.
May it be just the first step in a new series of homecoming events providing our veterans with the information and access to services they so richly deserve.