By Andrew Strecker, Contributing Reporter
Westborough – Last November, the Westborough Veterans’ Advisory Board (WVAB) oversaw the display of 700 American flags on the town’s rotary – the number signifying how many veterans and active military personnel live in Westborough.
“It was beautiful and touching,” was one out of hundreds of reactions on the WVAB’s new Facebook page.
The Field of Flags display and the WVAB’s recently introduced Facebook page are new ways the board is trying to “reach out to not just vets themselves, but families that can benefit as well,” said WVAB Secretary John Gallinagh.
The board has also updated its website, and according to WVAB Chair Paul Horrigan, “We are devoted to our town and its veteran population and want to make life easier and better for veterans any way that we can.”
“The Facebook page combines community and veteran issues together. The website has a page that veterans seeking benefits can access exclusively,” said Gallinagh, adding that the website now offers more two-way communication for veterans and those assisting them than before.
A Vietnam-era veteran who served on the aircraft carrier USS Essex during the height of the Cuban missile crisis, Gallinagh notes that the Department of Veterans Affairs has recently expanded Agent Orange medical and disability claims. About a half-million veterans, as well as their dependents and survivors, may now be eligible for care and benefits for possible exposure to the tactical herbicide used by the U.S. military from 1962 to 1975 and known to cause multiple diseases.
According to Military.com, “The Department of Veterans Affairs has added service aboard ships within 12 nautical miles of the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia to the list of what can qualify veterans and their children for possible health care and disability benefits due to exposure to the defoliant.”
“Veterans groups have long argued that military members came into contact with the chemical onboard ships while loading aircraft and conducting other operations,” according to the website.
Veterans may suffer from any number of issues, however. Hearing, vision and podiatry concerns are often what Gallinagh, also the Central Massachusetts Veteran’s Service District veteran service officer, helps with.
“We encourage all veterans, if you feel you have a claim, file it. We will help you and you have nothing to lose,” said Gallinagh.
“Younger veterans tend not to apply, to be honest with you,” he noted.
“There is maybe a military attitude of tough it out, don’t seek help,” he said, adding that his own son, a veteran of the Middle East conflict, may not be accessing services and benefits that he’s earned.
Besides planning and executing Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebratory activities, the WVAB sponsors the collection and delivery of care packages to deployed troops, semi-annual blood drives, Westborough Public School celebrations honoring veterans, the placement and removal of flags at veterans’ graves, and the production of the Westborough TV program Veterans’ Corner. It is also behind the Blue Star Memorial and Medal of Liberty programs in the town.