Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VAMC
Afghanistan, Iraq Veterans gather at Philadelphia Zoo
Philadelphia VA Medical Center staff welcomed more than 100 recently returned combat Veterans and their families to a Welcome Home event Sept. 1 at the Philadelphia Zoo. The third annual event was designed to help Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans take advantage of their Veterans benefits while at the same time thank them and their loved ones for their service and sacrifice.
The Welcome Home event is one of many efforts the VA uses to reach out to this new generation of combat Veterans. A special team also attends redeployment events, Veteran fairs, and Yellow Ribbon celebrations to educate and enroll Veterans in VA services.
In February of this year, the medical center also played host to 300 Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers who returned from Iraq in 2009. In addition to completing a mandatory post-deployment health reassessment, the Soldiers were able to enroll in VA health care and speak with VA and other experts about education benefits, employment, and other services available to them. Similar numbers of New jersey Soldiers also returned from deployment and Philadelphia VAMC staff were on hand at Fort Dix to welcome them home as well.
"The Veteran population is growing in Pennsylvania and New Jersey," said Lori Maas, the Philadelphia VA's program manager for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. "The emphasis is to arm them with the information they need so they can take advantage of the benefits they have earned."
Holding the Welcome Home at America's first zoo was a novel way to attract families, who are often in the best position to encourage their Veteran to take advantage of his or her benefits. The first two events, in 2008 and 2009, were held at the medical center.
Returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are automatically eligible for five years of free health care for conditions which may be related to their service. There is also a rejuvenated education benefit in the form of the post-9/11 GI Bill.
More information for Veterans of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM are available on the Returning Combat Veterans site at http://www.philadelphia.va.gov/combat_veterans.asp.