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Vet expo celebrating 25 years

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When Navy veteran Gary Bell was looking to sign up for military benefits, he went to the veterans expo at the American Legion.

A representative from Disabled American Veterans determined Bell qualified for services and guided him through the paperwork, a process that Bell now helps other former soldiers undertake as commander of the local chapter.

“I think it’s great because it lets people know what’s available to them,” Bell said.

The expo will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year as a one-stop shop connecting veterans to benefits, medical services and government representatives. Vendors will be on hand from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the legion.

Free flu shots, provided by Walgreens with a Medicare or Veterans Administration card, are typically the biggest draw for the event. Sugar Creek Eyecare will also offer exams.

In recent years, organizers have turned the spotlight on various veterans organizations. 

“We’re trying to make it more patriotic and more veterans-oriented than it has been maybe in the past,” coordinator Mike Spencer said.

Retired NASA astronaut Joe Allen will pay tribute to veterans in brief remarks about spaceflight and take questions from the audience.

“We have the greatest fighting force in the world and it’s because of our military,” Allen said.

Members of the Blue Star Mothers serve breakfast and lunch during the event. Hoosier Heartland State Bank will have two cash drawings.

The expo began under longtime veterans service officer Loran Rutledge, who died in 2007. In earlier years, the event drew more than 100 former service members seeking copies of benefit paperwork and coverage for military and non-service related health conditions.

Spencer would take a vacation day from his job at Acuity Brands to spend the day at the post.

“I’d get my flu shot, but then it was just kind of like a fun day to see some guys I knew around the area that were veterans,” he said. “We’d sit around and talk, and drink some coffee and eat.”

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