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Information, resources for veterans highlighted at fair

Sep. 13, 2013 @ 11:01 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Army and Vietnam veteran Mike Childers understands the need for an information and job fair like the one hosted Friday at VFW Post 9738 in Guyandotte.

"Most veterans have no idea the services available to them," Childers said. "I know I had no idea. It was the VFW that first steered me in the right direction. Most have no idea how to even apply for their VA benefits."

Childers helped VFW 9738 Post Commander Doug Deaton and his wife, Denese, with the Post's first Veterans Information and Job Fair. The fair featured vendors and information on health care, jobs and education, in addition to offering music, food and door prizes.

"This fair is for our vets in the community and their families, to give them a chance to better themselves," Childers said.

Deaton said it was his goal to get many providers together and on the same page to help veterans; in particular, he said he hoped some would be able to join in to start an extended-stay facility for veterans dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"We've been working on that since 1984, and we hope some of these vendors can work together with us on it," Deaton said. "Right now, they have to go out of the area for that type of care.

"We also wanted to do this for the younger guys getting out of the service who need jobs to support their families," he continued.

One of the 35-plus vendors at Friday's fair was Marsha Hopkins, vice president of operations, human resources and marketing for the Charleston-based Excalibur Services. Excalibur is a hub of resources, including training on opening a business and help with constructing a business plan, for veterans looking to start a small business.

Hopkins, whose own son is a veteran, said a lot of veterans don't know the benefits available to them or are distrustful of the government and hesitant to seek assistance.

"When you've served our country, there are benefits available to you. Our veterans are very much unaware of the things they're entitled to," Hopkins said, highlighting small business loans available to veterans and a comprehensive list of military-friendly franchise opportunities.

Hopkins is working to organize expo events in cities around West Virginia beginning in 2014 to offer a one-stop shop for resources and benefits for current and former service members.

"This is really about economic development. Ten percent of our population in West Virginia is veterans. The more we help them, the more it helps the state," she said.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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