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Veterans get help identifying benefits, programs

Uncle Sam pointed and stared from the all-too-familiar poster on the wall.

Only this time the message below the picture was different. "I Owe You" replaced the typical "I Want You."

A Supermarket of Veterans Benefits for Veterans was held at the National Guard Armory Friday and Saturday.

Organizers had hoped that several hundred western Wisconsin veterans attend the event and have their questions answered.

Andrew Schuster, retired brigadier general, U.S. Army, and public affairs director for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, said the New Richmond gathering brought together about 40 different vendors who were ready to answer questions and meet veterans' needs.

He said the local gathering is the 34th such "Supermarket" event held in the state since 2000. Schuster said the state started the supermarket concept after finding that Wisconsin veterans were missing out on many benefits they were entitled to.

"Wisconsin was below the national average in getting VA benefits," he noted.

The supermarket event had never been in St. Croix County before. The closest such gathering was in Menomonie last year.

"St. Croix County and Pierce County have been growing so much," Schuster said. "It's all about reaching out to veterans and letting them know what they qualify for."

At this free, "one stop shop" for benefits, veterans could establish eligibility for state veterans benefits, apply for state and federal benefits, receive information about loans, education benefits and employment opportunities, get assistance in obtaining military medals and records, and much more.

There were also representatives on hand from the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Hospital, a nursing home for veterans and the veterans cemetery in Spooner.

"Veterans don't get a packet in the mail saying you qualify for this or that," Schuster said. "They have to apply.."

Representatives from the local veterans organizations were also on hand to greet visiting vets and talk about their organizations.

Lawrence and Jeanette Bazille of Emerald spent several moments talking to a County Veterans Service officer at the event. They were able to get some of their questions answered and now know the steps toward applying for help.