- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Jessie Adams was on his way to Georgia Square mall on Wednesday morning when he saw a sign advertising something called a “supermarket of veterans benefits” at The Classic Center in downtown Athens.

So the retired Army Reserve officer changed his plans for the morning and walked into a massive ballroom in the downtown convention space, where dozens of representatives of dozens of service-related groups and government agencies, and other organizations interested in assisting military veterans, were gathered to provide guidance and help to northeast Georgians who had served their country.

The groups were brought together in Athens by the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, which assists veterans in obtaining benefits to which they are entitled.

Adams, who retired from service as a major, and whose reserve duties once included commanding the Army Reserve postal unit based in Athens, found himself talking Wednesday with Cory Thornton, a veterans’ representative from the Georgia Department of Labor’s career center in Athens.

Currently working in poultry plant management, Adams, who is closing in on 60 years of age, is also the single father of a 16-year-old son, and was interested in exploring career opportunities close to home with hours that would allow him to spend more time with his son.

Like any number of the veterans who came to Wednesday’s benefits “supermarket,” Adams wouldn’t necessarily walk away with a job or other immediate assistance. He would, though, get a good start toward getting any help he might need, according to Coy Gibson of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which helped host the conference.

“If you haven’t started into it (the process of claiming benefits), this is tremendous,” said Gibson, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Korean War.

And at any rate, Adams, who spent seven years on active duty, followed up with 14 years in the Army Reserve, likes his chances in his job search, based on the personal discipline instilled in him during his service.

“A lot of veterans have a lot to offer,” he said.

The Department of Veterans Service expected Wednesday’s supermarket, which included a host of representatives from various divisions of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, along with people from the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center and other organizations not primarily associated with veterans benefits, to attract people from far beyond Athens.

One of those people was Larry Smith, who came 30 miles from Franklin Springs to update himself on veterans’ benefits. Smith, 55, who served as a tank officer in the U.S. Army from 1979 until 1986, has previous experience in claiming benefits, and said he liked the “one-stop shop” offered at The Classic Center events. Smith also saw the day as an opportunity for some fellowship.

“I’m enjoying meeting other veterans,” he said.

Smith did get a bit of bad news, though, learning that because his service dates were outside the eligible wartime periods that govern some Veterans Affairs benefits, he didn’t qualify for any nursing home costs he might incur in the future. He was philosophical about the news, though, saying that at least he’d learned that he’d have to make other arrangements for the care.

Mike Roby, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Services, was on hand for the “supermarket,” and said the events, held annually in cities around the state - it was last held in Athens in 1989 - serve as a learning experience for many veterans.

“A lot of them don’t know what they’re entitled to,” Roby said.

The “supermarkets,” Roby added, are a visible example of the work that the Georgia Department of Veterans Services does each day in connecting veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.

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