Rialto resident Manuel Correa said he was pushed by his wife to attend the Veterans Resource Fair at the Gonzales Community Center last week. It had been a long time since the Vietnam War veteran sought any help since his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in 1972.
After being harassed and shamed by war protesters over 40 years ago, Correa said it was nice to finally receive some kind of support.
“Anything they can do for us is great,” explained Correa.
Hundreds of military veterans attended the fair in Colton on August 18 to receive information on how to file medical claims and receive direction on education, employment, and housing.
The event, organized by Congressman Pete Aguilar’s (D-San Bernardino) office, saw dozens of veterans service groups, employers, and educational institutions come together to help former servicemen and women.
“I’m glad that our veterans were able to connect with our local veteran service organizations, and I’m grateful that we had so many groups that participated,” Aguilar said. “We can and must do more to help our heroes when they come home, and that responsibility starts right here in the Inland Empire.”
Disabled American Veterans Commander Richard Valdez claims statistics demonstrate how veterans are underutilizing the resources available to them. For example, data compiled by the National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics indicates veterans have a lower labor force participation than civilians.
Sharing information about disability claims, job applications, and educational benefits will help positively transform the lives of veterans, Valdez believes.
“What we’re trying to do here is provide important information to vets,” Valdez said. “The overriding issue is knowledge.”
One former serviceman who may benefit from the fair is Mark Villalpando. The 54-year-old former U.S. Marine spoke to representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to try to change his ‘Other Than Honorable’ discharge to a General or Honorable discharge to receive full benefits.
Villalpando, who suffers from spinal cancer, said he’s optimistic about his chances.
“I think they were helpful,” Villalpando said. “I have more confidence moving forward. Hopefully [the ‘Other Than Honorable’ discharge] will clear.”