Setting the ‘tables’ for vets

Rowan College outreach event showcases services for military members

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Charles Thorp (left to right) of the state VFW, Steven and Fabiana Gardner of the Veterans Benefits Administration and Bob Smyth of Bridging the Gap manned tables with information for vets at the Rowan event.

There was a flurry of activity in the Math and Engineering Center at Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) in Deptford on the morning of Saturday, April 6, at the college’s annual military outreach event, where information tables about veterans benefits were being set up along the first-floor corridors.

“We take advantage of every opportunity we get to tell veterans what programs and services are available to them, especially as they transition into civilian life,” said Rita D. Chappelle, chief of media and external affairs for the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System that serves the Delaware Valley.

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As she put out pamphlets on her table about health care for women veterans and an overview of benefits for all those who served in the military, Chappelle was particularly enthusiastic about the new federal PACT Act, approved in March, that expands eligibility for VA health care and benefits for those exposed to toxins.

“It provides access to any veteran abroad or in the United States who was exposed to toxic chemicals or hazardous materials to free health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” she explained.

The new law expands health-care eligibility to several groups of veterans, including those who served in the Vietnam War and may have been exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand or Cambodia. It also requires the VA to phase in hospital care, medical services and nursing-home care for any illness in three new categories.

The first category is for veterans who participated in a toxic-exposure risk activity while serving on active duty or inactive duty training. The second category includes those exposed to burn pits and the air above them, including veterans who served in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

The third group is for veterans who were deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel and New Dawn, as well as the Resolute Support Mission. For information go to

Also giving out information at Rowan’s event was Bob Smyth of Riverton, a retired U.S. Army captain who served as a first lieutenant during the Vietnam War in 1970 and 1971. The external relations program manager for Bridging the Gap, Smyth said his Manasquan-based organization helps veterans transition from military to civilian life.

“We work with more than 100 companies willing to hire veterans,” he said.

Bridging the Gap’s goal is to “open doors for veterans,” noted Smyth, by providing military members and their families with career-transition coaching and job interviews with veteran-friendly corporations. For information, go to

Manning another table at the outreach event were members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Glassboro Flotilla 18-2, including Chuck McGlynn, John Salvia and Richard Grochowski. They are all volunteers.

“We reach out to the general public about boating safety,” Salvia pointed out, adding that the auxiliary conducts safety inspections of watercraft.

“I get to serve my country and serve the public,” Grochowski remarked. “Our goal is keeping people safe on the water.”

For information or to join the auxiliary, go to

Charles Thorp, veteran service officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of New Jersey headquarters, was distributing information at his table during the Rowan outreach event.

“It’s important that veterans know what benefits are available to them,” he advised.

Another table was staffed by Steven and Fabiana Gardner of the U.S. Veterans Benefit Administration.

“Some veterans return to civilian life and never apply for benefits that they are eligible to apply for,” Fabiana emphasized. “We are getting new applications from Vietnam veterans 40 years later.”

“It’s an honor to assist New Jersey veterans by connecting them to the many resources available in Gloucester County, along with services and support provided through the college,” said John Ryder, Rowan’s director of student and veteran affairs.

For information about the college’s programs for veterans, go to

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