By LEAH DEARBORN
REVERE — American Legion Post 61 hosted a veterans’ roundtable discussion Saturday with a special tribute to those who served in Vietnam.
Organized by the mayor’s office and the Department of Veterans’ Services, the event was a chance for local veterans to network, find new resources and air grievances.
Marc Silvestri, who took over as director of veterans’ affairs in the city about a month ago, said he wanted to acknowledge Vietnam Veterans Day, a national holiday on March 29.
A veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan, Silvestri said there’s a huge difference between how he was treated upon returning home and how Vietnam veterans were received.
“I’m hoping to let them understand the city is always there for them. This is the first of many welcome homes for Vietnam veterans,” he said.
Silvestri said his future plans for the department include the development of a vet-to-vet mentoring program and a jobs initiative, both of which he hopes to implement within the next year.
A food bank focused on veterans and their families will continue to operate under Silvestri’s watch on the first Wednesday of every month out of the lodge at 249 Broadway, where it serves 180 families.
The development of 30 units of veterans’ housing on Shirley Avenue is in the works as well.
Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky said the units are still up to two years away from completion. They will be available to non-veterans as well, but service members will be given preference.
“It’s one of my dreams and I wanted to make it happen,” he said.
After a brief lunch, Silvestri spoke to the crowded room about benefits offered by the state, such as the Welcome Home Bonus.
He recommended that all veterans register with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), if only to expedite the process of getting health care if a future need arises.
“They referred me to every kind of resource. It’s been incredible,” said Air Force veteran Burton Dowland, now a senior studying at Salem State University.
Dowland said he only signed up for the VA in 2010, despite being discharged decades ago. He was diagnosed with adult onset Type 2 diabetes, among other ailments.
“It literally saved my life,” he said.
Mayor Brian Arrigo, who attended the roundtable event, said its purpose was to ensure that communication goes both ways between the city and its veterans.
Silvestri said he hopes to host a district-wide roundtable discussion regarding veterans’ issues in the near future.
“It brings a sense of community and a bond that as veterans, we understand,” he said.