With all the services and celebrations for veterans this time of year, it's hard to suggest that they're an overlooked group. But while it's true there are a wealth of benefits afforded to veterans, too few of them are aware of what's out there for them, some local advocates say.

On Nov. 15, the city of Absecon held a veterans information session and free luncheon at the United Methodist Church of Absecon to help bring to county veterans an awareness of all they're entitled to.

"They served their country, and they deserve two things: to know what their benefits are, and to use them as they so need," said veteran and advocate Lou Green.

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Representatives from several groups, including TD Bank, Atlantic Cape Community College, Catholic Charities of Camden and Compassionate Care Hospice set up booths in the church hall to detail their offerings for veterans.

Deputy County Clerk Art Lucchesi attended the session as well, explaining the county-issued veterans ID cards Atlantic County Clerk Ed McGettigan helped implement statewide. The cards entitle veterans to significant discounts at merchants spread throughout Atlantic County, and enrolling in the program is as simple as presenting DD-214 discharge papers to the county. Lucchesi said he enrolled about 10 new members at the luncheon.

Green, who has advocated veterans' causes by his own initiative since 1994, discussed various benefits afforded to veterans at the national level, including health care, loans and death benefits. He said he does this in an attempt to bypass the bureaucracy that he says clouds the benefit system.

"I'm so elated that I helped several get into the Veterans Affairs health care system by the application process, and even if it's just verbal info that I'm providing, it just helps that veteran get a clear, precise answer that sometimes they're not getting elsewhere," Green said.

The luncheon and information session was a joint venture between the Absecon City Council's Community Affairs Committee and the Absecon Community Center for Seniors, which holds frequent events at the church.

Lunch consisted of roast pork and various sides, with pastries donated by the Absecon Ladies League for dessert.

Decorations done by students at Absecon's Marsh Elementary School and Absecon Nursery School hung on the walls. They were made as part of an initiative by city Councilwoman and Marsh school teacher Kim Horton to encourage kids to be involved in their community, said Community Affairs Committee member Joann Elco.

"What we're trying to do is bring the kids into the activities that go on in town, so that hopefully they will grow up to be volunteers and be active in their community," Elco said. "That's what this whole committee that is newly formed is trying to do, we are trying to network with new organizations in town."

The community center typically holds biweekly senior's luncheons at the church at a low cost and offered free meals to veterans and their family members at the information session. About 50 area residents attended, most of them veterans.

Galloway Township resident and Army veteran Albert Kleuser, who attended the luncheon with his wife, Rose, was one of those Green signed up for benefits. He said he had a good time dining with his fellow veterans.

"The lunch is great and the company is terrific, too, and it's fellowship with other veterans and their families," Kleuser said. "We are really enjoying it."

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