By SHERIDAN CYR
John DeMello Sr. looks up from his phone to wave in a visitor to his office in Town Hall. At a small conference table, Peter Longo is sifting through a pile of veteran pamphlets. As soon as DeMello hangs up the phone, a veteran pokes his head into the office with a question.
DeMello and Longo haven’t even finished unpacking the new office of the Southington’s Veterans Committee, perched on the upper floor with a perfect view of the veteran monuments on the town green, but the office is already bustling with activity.
The committee member unpacks a medal they just received for a local veteran, and he flashes a wide smile as he talks about the upcoming ceremony to present it. This is just one of the things that the committee does in their continuing efforts to connect with many local, state and federal organizations.
“Our whole purpose is to help the veterans and their families,” he said. “We want to help navigate them towards the many resources available to them that often times, they aren’t aware of, or don’t feel deserving of.”
The committee can help in many ways, such as providing a connection to the Veterans Association, assisting veterans in job searches, educating them on what tax reliefs are available to them, obtaining war medals for families of veterans, connecting veterans to transportation to VA Hospitals, or even just lending an ear to a fellow veteran who wishes to talk. Through member Rachel Wache, veterans can also access medical supplies such as walkers, wheelchairs and more.
The committee has formed relationships with local organizations such as Bread for Life, Southington Community Services, the local library, the Housing Authority and others in order to educate the public on what assistance they can offer.
“We’re reaching out to others, and are still in the learning phases,” said DeMello. “Now that we have this office space, we can really get a lot more done.”
DeMello was excited to share that through working with Liz Chubet at the library, the committee will be hosting regular coffee hours. The first one will be on May 29 at 10 a.m.
Committee member Pete Longo stressed that veterans are entitled to many benefits and should take advantage.
“We really want them to know that there are enough resources to go around,” Longo said. Apart from many veterans being unaware of the available benefits, there are many who simply choose not to.
A veteran’s service contract requirement was enacted on Oct. 1, 2013, which stated all municipalities were to appoint a veteran’s service committee to ensure veterans are exposed to a full array of services available to them. The Committee has been operating successfully since then but will be able to accomplish much more with their new office space.
In addition to the new space, the committee welcomes Attorney and Military Judge Advocate General (JAG) Officer Alex Ricciardone who was sworn into the committee at the April 16 Town Council meeting.
“It is with honor that the Town of Southington and its Veterans Committee can assist our residents who have served honorably and continue to serve our community, state and nation in armed forces of the United States,” said town officials in a press release. “The Veterans Committee shall act as the coordinating agency in all matters concerning veterans and their dependents, coordinating the activities of public and private facilities concerned with veterans’ reemployment, education, rehabilitation and adjustment to peacetime living.”
The office is located on the second floor of the Town Hall. To contact the committee, call (860) 276-6299 or email SouthingtonVets@southington.org. Office hours are: Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. Office appointments can be requested by calling the office.
More info at www.southington.org/content/17214/25378/default.aspx