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Butler VA facility reps will offer advice at Fort Armstrong fest

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Representatives of the Veterans Affairs Butler Healthcare Clinic hope to lend a hand to recent veterans during the Fort Armstrong Folk Festival on Saturday, from noon to 6 p.m.

The organization plans to reach out to all veterans, especially those from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, to explain what services they could receive through VA clinics and programs, according to Ken Kalberer, health systems specialist at the Butler Township facility.

“We run into veterans every day who don't know what benefits and services they're eligible for, or even what we offer,” Kalberer said.

Combat veterans from recent conflicts are eligible for cost-free medical care for any condition related to their service for up to five years after their discharge date.

According to the 2012 census, approximately 1 million veterans live in Pennsylvania. Armstrong County's population is approximately 10 percent veterans, with 6,768 of 68,409 residents claiming veteran status.

Kalberer said 828 of Armstrong County's veterans served in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

Rick Croyle, executive director of the Armstrong County Veterans Affairs office, said the majority of veterans across the county experienced combat during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

Despite free medical care, Croyle said, most veterans returning from combat zones and hostile territories come back looking to find a job, tosettle down and to move on with their lives.

“We have a few of the younger veterans starting to come back,” he said. “These younger veterans have more information than any before them ever had — they're being briefed about the VA before leaving the military.”

As of June 30, approximately 2,600 veterans from Southwestern Pennsylvania who served in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn enrolled with VA Butler Healthcare, Kalberer said.

“They just might not know what is available to them, and a lot of times they think they don't need our care so they aren't looking,” Kalberer said.

Croyle said it's good for the VA to be available during large events such as the Folk Festival.

“There will always be a few who will come over and ask questions and sign up for programs,” Croyle said. “Even if you reach out to only a few veterans, it's completely worthwhile.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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