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The VFW Post 1231 color guard on Veterans' Day in Canton, NY, 2009. Photo: David Sommerstein
The VFW Post 1231 color guard on Veterans' Day in Canton, NY, 2009. Photo: David Sommerstein

Appreciation day informs vets of benefits

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There are 9,000 U.S. veterans in St. Lawrence County alone - thousands more across the North Country and across the border in Canada.

An event this Saturday aims to recognize those veterans' service to their country and also make sure they're aware of all the benefits they're entitled to.

The North Country Veterans Appreciation Day is tomorrow at Clarkson University from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m.

Mike Boprey is head of Veterans Services for St. Lawrence County and is one of the event's organizers. He told David Sommerstein one of the goals is to help veterans stay in the North Country, where job prospects are few.

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David Sommerstein
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St. Lawrence County head of Veteran's Services Mike Boprey when he was active duty in the Air Force in Iraq in 2007. Photo courtesy Mike Boprey.
St. Lawrence County head of Veteran's Services Mike Boprey when he was active duty in the Air Force in Iraq in 2007. Photo courtesy Mike Boprey.
I do know that there's quite a few veterans that are coming back and taking advantage of education benefits…that's been a very nice thing, but again, depending on once they receive their education, if the jobs aren't here, are they going to stick around? That's the major question.

Why hold this appreciation day? Is it just a thank you, or is it more than that?

As a part of the appreciation, we want to make these veterans aware of all and any benefits that they're entitled to. We have a lot of veterans that, they realize they have benefits but they may not be aware of all their benefits.

For example?

For example, property tax exemption. We have veterans that reside in the area that weren't even aware that that was an entitlement. Obviously they can't go back in time and get a discount, but to make them aware of it, and make sure that they get themselves [to] the assessor's office and get that exemption, that's a big plus.

We've done quite a bit of reporting about young veterans coming out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and struggling to reintegrate into society, and especially get a job in this economy. What kind of help do you offer for people in those situations?

A lot of times veterans when they do get out, they may not be fully prepared for their transition, be it have that educational piece, they may have a family they have to support and remain supportive of. The key is marketing, but again if a veteran wants to get out and go back to a certain area, and if those jobs aren't there, then they're obviously going to struggle.

They've either got to get the education piece to fit that, or even move, and moving is a big thing for vets, do they want to move, do they want to come back to their hometown? Case in point for myself, I really wanted to come home. When I retired from the military, I stayed in that area…I was established in that area, I had family, but again it wasn't home, and I took the steps necessary to do that. It took me a while, it took me a good year and a half before I was presented with a job opportunity to come home and do that.

That's a big struggle for a lot of veterans. I feel that with the job situation in this area, if the jobs aren't here, it's almost a limbo to stick around.

So does this appreciation day, and the tables that will offer information, does that attempt to say 'hey, veterans, you can stay here'?

I think a big key…is education. We are going to have the opportunity to have the education piece there, we'll have local universities and colleges that will help veterans [with] their transition to going to school and utilizing their GI Bill benefits, that alone is a big piece of it really.

If the job skill set they currently have isn't tailored to what they need to do, or their career goals change, they can be in touch with these schools that can get them lined up and utilize the bill that they have.  

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