The idea for taking veterans benefits information “to the people” originated in late 1965 when it became apparent that many veterans, widows, widowers, and family members in the Columbus area who needed information on VA benefits were unaware of what benefits were available.
First, consideration was given to locating several claims counselors from the Georgia Department of Veterans Service at a central point in Columbus to answer questions posed by veterans and their families. It was quickly concluded that information about other benefits other than just VA benefits was needed. It was decided to involve every state, federal, and local agency which had any dealings whatsoever with the veteran population and bring them together under one roof to provide a central point for information and service.
The objective was to place experts in one location so a veteran could get what was needed, and then get whatever assistance was required to actually file claims.
In addition to the Department of Veterans Service and what was then the Veterans Administration, 18 other governmental agencies charged with administering programs directly or indirectly related to veterans affairs had representatives present.
In January of 1966, with the generous cooperation of the Columbus area news media and City officials, the first one-day counseling service for veterans, widows, widowers, and family members ever held in the United States was conducted with astounding success.
Over 5,000 people made inquiries during the nine-hour period. Those attending ranged from a 90-year-old Spanish War widow to the teenage widow of an American killed in Vietnam. Over 4,000 claims were filed on the spot during that first “Supermarket.”
A few months later another “Supermarket” was held in Augusta.
Again, excellent new media participation and cooperation by city officials netted gratifying results. Over 4,000 inquiries were made. By this time, Washington officials had received word on how Georgia was assisting its veterans and were on hand to observe the Augusta event.
Since that first “Supermarket” in Columbus and the second one in Augusta, the Georgia Department of Veterans Service has staged phenomenally successful programs in Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Brunswick, Canton, Dalton, Gainesville, Griffin, Rome, Macon, Savannah, Valdosta, and Waycross.
The department frequently receives inquiries from other states on how to conduct such programs. And several states, following the format developed by the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, have staged successful programs of their own.
Experience from these one-day counseling sessions has clearly demonstrated that there are many veterans, widows, widowers, and family dependents who do not know what benefits they are entitled for having served their country in a time of need.
Since the department originated this program in Columbus in 1966, more than 165,000 veterans, active-duty military members, and their dependents have attended.
Through these annual “Supermarket” programs, the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, in cooperation with all the participating state, federal, and local agencies, augments its program of informing Georgia veterans.
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For more information on the 2015 Supermarket of Veterans Benefits, which will take place Wednesday, Dec. 2 in Athens, see our event page.
About the Author
Brian Zeringue is the GDVS Projects & Events Manager.