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Local legions help vets get the benefits they need

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Commander Gary Glick is leading the Jewish War Veterans Post 652’s mission to get fellow veterans the health benefits they deserve. It’s become such a big mission for Glick that he has been given a nickname — “Monster” — denoting his adamant pursuit of informing others.

“I always have the paper in my back pocket” listing the many forms of aid that veterans can apply for, Glick said. “Every time I see a veteran, I start going through it — and so many of them don’t know.”

Last Sunday, the JWV hosted its first Veterans Resource Fair at the Merrick Golf Clubhouse, which was attended by more than 100 former service members. Thirty tables were occupied by veteran assistance agencies, government representatives and American Legions to help veterans save thousands of dollars on health care or receive life-changing benefits like additional pension funds.

“Vets have never really had this before,” Glick said, explaining that such resource fairs are rare on Long Island. According to Glick, Vietnam War veterans are eligible for benefits, but many are unaware that they are.

“There are 115,000 vets on Long Island, but 90,000 don’t know what benefits they could be getting,” said Pat Yngstrom, a member of various veterans organizations and advocate for veterans benefits. “Events like this are needed across the country.”

Yngstrom said that informing veterans has become a personal mission for him, after he suffered a stroke and was inactive for 46 years. “I came out of the woodwork to get involved in helping vets,” he said.

Now Yngstrom said he has helped countless veterans receive assistance. Some struggle to afford living necessities, like nursing care, and monetary assistance — which, in some cases can amount to thousands of extra dollars a month — can help them get by.

Veteran Pat Walsh, who said he might have drunk Agent Orange-tainted water aboard a cruiser off Vietnam during his service, attended the fair and signed up for benefits — after Glick’s hounding. “So many vets have [illnesses] that eat them up after 50 years, and they don’t know they can get help,” Glick said.

Many veterans are reluctant, however. At a recent Bellmore Street Fair, Glick said, he encountered a veteran who had an injury that left shrapnel in his arm, but he didn’t seek help.

According to Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads, who co-sponsored the event, younger veterans, who tend not to join organizations like the JWV, also lack awareness of their potential benefits.

The key, Glick said, is to spread the word. The JWV plans to hold the fair at least once a year, with the potential to move to other locations, such as Suffolk County.

Meanwhile, veterans in Nassau County can still receive assistance. Ralph Esposito, director of the county’s Veterans Service Agency, said that any veteran could get food once a week at its headquarters, at 2201 Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow. Veterans can also contact the agency’s main line at (516) 572-6565 to learn about benefits they may be entitled to.

Eric Spinner, a member of Elmont’s American Legion Post 1033, said he served in the National Guard and never fought in Vietnam. “I never left [America],” he said, “but they’re all my brothers.”

“We’re all one,” Glick said. “We’re all veterans.”