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Meeting held to improve quality of life for island veterans

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They are the people that put their lives on the line, that left their blood and sweat on foreign soil - they are our veterans. After the long years of service and sacrifice, veterans are entitled to certain benefits from the government, yet these promises often times fall by the wayside.

Dozens met Tuesday to discuss strategies to improve the livelihood of veterans here on island, and help them benefit fully from the services to which they are entitled. "Today was really the Veteran Commission who got together to brainstorm strategies for Public Law 32-101," explained U.S. Air Force veteran Jolene Castro. "Ad that is the aggressive approach to getting a count of our veterans. As we know, Guam is the highest per capita, so we have to ask these veterans to come out and recognize they're veterans." Castro said a count is essential to receiving funding from the federal government, noting, "$5,000 for every veteran that returns home, and that's to account for their benefits to education, job hunting, more importantly the benefits for healthcare."

However, the need for a count is just one of a slew of issues affecting this community. The most recent to come to light is the pending move of the Guam Veterans Affairs Office from Asan to the Guam Veterans Cemetery in Piti. Castro thinks the move is unfortunate, saying, "Think about a veteran that comes home and needs services or just wants information - they're going to go to the cemetery, of course you know PTSD is big and there's a lot of triggers on PTSD. One is death, we saw death, and going to the cemetery to get information on Veterans Affairs, I don't think is so much more heroic or heroistic approach to taking care of our veteran," she said.

Veterans Affairs director John Unpingco said he has been working with Governor Eddie Calvo to source the funding needed to repair the sewage problems at the Asan facility, but that it's estimated to cost upwards of $30,000. The governor said, "When it comes to these limitation on $30,000, the veterans are well worth it, the question needed to be brought to me. And with that, whether it would be suitable to use that money to repair the current offices or bring them to a brand new office, I just want to know what's best for the veterans and they have my commitment."

The VAO will be operating out of Piti effective next Friday, which also happens to be the date that current director Unpingco steps down. Retired U.S. Army command sergeant major Martin Manglona has been appointed by Governor Eddie Calvo to lead the organization, said, "I think we have so many organizations here that can work together with Asan. I think if they work together with Asan it will be a lot better."

Clearly, more resources are needed to better serve Guam's veteran community.

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