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Veterans hospital welcomes heroes home

October 03, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- U.S. Army veteran Brandon White said he appreciates the treatment he receives from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg.

White, 25, who served in an artillery unit with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq from 2003-04, said he has psychological issues and service-related tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.

"I'm getting the help I need," White said. "It's helping with some problems I needed to address."

On Saturday, dozens of people gathered at the hospital to participate in the second annual Welcome Home American Heroes Celebration. The event was held to introduce veterans, active-duty military personnel, Reservists and Guard members to services that the VA offers.

One of the newer services is Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom, a program that helps returning veterans who served in Southwest Asia get the medical benefits they deserve. Veterans have up to five years after their date of separation from military service to enroll in the program.

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Sharon Gant, transition patient advocate for the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom program in Martinsburg, said about 2,000 veterans who served in Southwest Asia have received treatment since the program came to the Martinsburg facility in September 2008.

"We need to get the word out that (the program) is here," Gant said. "We're doing a lot more outreach."

Ann Brown, director of the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the VA partners with the National Guard and Department of Defense to let service personnel know they will be eligible to receive benefits after leaving the military.

"We all come together to meet the needs of the veterans before they become veterans," she said.

Brown was part of a ceremony during the celebration that thanked veterans for their service. Booths were set up to provide veterans and their families with a glimpse of some of the programs that the VA offers.

Members of the veterans-support organizations Rolling Thunder and Patriot Guard Riders also attended the event.

Gary Gaskins of the Patriot Guard Riders said his organization helped serve donated food at the event to show their appreciation.

"It's the least we can do," he said. "We're all about the military. We just want them to know someone cares."

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