EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ -  There are lots of heroes in East Brunswick.  You just have to know where to look for them.  They were all over town last week.

Mayor Kevin McEvoy and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman met with veterans, representatives from the Veterans' Administration, members of the East Brunswick Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 133 and some veteran support providers at the #2370 Elks Lodge to make sure that our heroes get the help they need.  However, the Elks are pretty big heroes, too, as they open their doors to help the vets any chance they get and fund programs that put their arms around those whom have served.

The Elks hosted a "Vets Choice" event at the Lodge on the Lake last week that brought the VA to the community.  Congresswoman Watson Coleman said , "we exist to provide service to vets; to provide all the opportunities and address all the challenges that still exist for them."

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Noting that, "We understand how important our vets are to us and how important we are to them," Watson Coleman described some new healthcare opportunities that vets can take advantage of.  She added that Veterans' Affairs is looking for "gaps" in coverage so that they can provide better service.  She was especially concerned about problems resulting from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicide.

Watson Coleman urged a "robust interaction" between veterans' groups and the VA that would drive improvement and increased support.

After giving a "shout out"to the Elks, East Brunswick Mayor Kevin McEvoy praised the effective communication between the Elks and the VFW, especially when it came to increasing awareness of available services to veterans.  McEvoy praised the Elks' participation in the Army of Hope program for which the local chapter raised $140,000 last year.  A national program sponsored by the Elks, the Army of Hope provides support to needy vets and their families on holidays, with rent, paying bills and getting housing. The Mayor joined Congresswoman Watson Coleman in affirming that "Veterans' affairs are a priority" and that it is the government's job to make sure that there is increased outreach.

Jennifer Myers, an Air Force veteran with 20 years of service, next described the work done in the Newark Office of the VA, which handles vets' needs from Sussex to Mercer Counties in New Jersey, about 41,000 veterans.  She sees it as her job to "bring the VA to veterans" and praised the Elks for being responsive to bringing the outreach event to East Brunswick.  She added that many vets find it "a hassle to visit the Newark office" due to parking and other access problems, so she designed this program to  reach out at local events.

Holding up a bursting file folder, Myers asked the group, "What is this?"  When she received the response that it was a "C" file full of data, Myers replied, "No. It is a veteran." Meyers stressed that a person's paperwork and a person are one and the same.  She then praised the VA's having gone to a paperless environment in 2013, allowing for increased speed and efficiency in dealing with the many forms that represented the many people who needed support.  She then described several ways to access tools online that would increase the ability of vets to draw on some available services.

Local vets were also helped by "Hope for Veterans," a nonprofit group helping vets in New Jersey and Pennsylvania find housing and avoid homelessness.  Outreach Specialist Steve Donahue echoed Meyers' affirmation, "Sometimes we help dozens of people at a session.  Sometimes just one.  But if one vet is not homeless because we helped him today, that's good work."

Interested in learning about the East Brunswick Elks? 

Elks Lodges are places where neighbors come together, families share meals, and children grow up.  Elks invest in their communities through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, by undertaking projects that address unmet needs, and by honoring the service and sacrifice of our veterans.

If you are interested in joining, call the lodge at 732-821-9527 (Wednesday evenings)  Come in for Wings N Things every Wed @7pm. Great pub food! Every Wednesday evening is Open House Night. Come on down to the Lodge by the lake.  Come Sunday afternoons to watch sports. The kitchen is open. 

Meetings:                     First & Third Thursdays, except July & August
Meeting Directions:      Farrington Lake at Hardenburg Lane, East Brunswick, NJ