George Canavaggio was named Assistant Commissioner of Field Operations and Appeals effective July 1, 2015. GDVS Communications and Outreach Specialist Charlotte May recently sat down with Assistant Commissioner Canavaggio and his administrative assistant Ava Ingram to discuss the Supermarket of Veterans Benefits.

MAY: Assistant Commissioner, Ms. Ingram, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. I know things are busy with the Supermarket of Veterans Benefits happening this week.

CANAVAGGIO: Thank you for inviting us. The Supermarket is our signature event and I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk about it.

MAY: Assistant Commissioner, you were appointed a few months ago and this is the first Supermarket that you have been involved in planning. How have you been involved with the Supermarket in the past?

CANAVAGGIO: Well, I’ve been a part of the GDVS since 1998 so I’ve attended quite a few Supermarkets over the years. I’ve attended as a Veterans Field Service Officer, office manager, Appeals Officer, and as the Director of Appeals. The first Supermarket I attended was held in Columbus, which was held on top of an ice skating rink.

INGRAM: My first Supermarket was in Valdosta in 2009. I was a Veterans Claims and Appeals Officer at the time, but I’ve been involved in planning Supermarkets ever since.

MAY: Has planning the Supermarket taught you anything unexpected after attending them in other roles?

CANAVAGGIO: I’ve learned a lot over the last few months about what happens behind the scenes to make the Supermarket a success for the veterans who attend. Ava plays a huge part in helping to coordinate with other agencies to provide the best services for attendees and making sure we have enough support from our field offices.

It’s a lot different than just showing up as a service officer and having everything ready to go.

INGRAM: Making sure that we find the best agencies or programs that provide services to veterans is always a big challenge. We want to make sure the GDVS has the best services available to Georgia’s veterans represented at the Supermarket.

MAY: What kinds of things do you see at the Supermarket?

CANAVAGGIO: The veterans who come out to the Supermarket are always glad they have our attention and are excited to get answers to their questions all in one place. Veterans don’t always know there are other agencies, like the Department of Natural Resources, who offer beneficial services.

It’s a great opportunity for veterans and their families to get information on new changes from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) about benefits that are available.

INGRAM: Many veterans and their families don’t know we exist and are a free service available to them. We are here as veterans advocates and we are ready to assist in any way we can. The Supermarket is a great way for them to find help and it’s exciting to see that we can have an impact on their lives.

MAY: It sounds like there are a lot of opportunities available to veterans who attend. What can veterans expect to do or see at the Supermarket?

INGRAM: There will be a lot of veterans starting the claims process. Claims are the meat and potatoes of what the GDVS handles and the Supermarket is a great opportunity to get the ball rolling. A lot of veterans will also take advantage of the chance to talk directly with a representative from VA.

CANAVAGGIO: Veterans attending the Supermarket are always surprised to see the variety of services available to them they didn’t know existed. Back in the mid-90s, VA wasn’t always mentioned beyond healthcare but there are a lot of other benefits available to veterans.

We’re here to help them find out more information and start applying for those benefits and programs.

MAY: The Supermarket draws in a lot of veterans and families from the surrounding community wherever it’s hosted. How does having the Supermarket in their area continue to impact local veterans?

CANAVAGGIO: The local office and other offices who support the Supermarket are bombarded with new contacts after the Supermarket wraps up. A lot of veterans who didn’t know the GDVS existed are now ready to start working with us on claims, appeals, and other services. For Athens, we expect to see at least five of the surrounding counties get more involved with our Veterans Field Service Offices.

MAY: The Supermarket of Veterans Benefits is being held later this week, on December 2. Assistant Commissioner, Ms. Ingram, do you have any ideas on how to improve future Supermarkets?

CANAVAGGIO: Other states don’t hold Supermarkets like we do and it’s vital that we get the word out to local communities about the Supermarket so they can start planning to attend. It’s important that we start the planning process early in the year to continue offering the best service to Georgia’s veterans and their families. We need to get a head start on coordinating with other agencies.

INGRAM: We are working on creating a timeline to make sure coordinating the Supermarket will go smoothly in the future.

We want to make sure key players for the event are involved from start to finish in the planning process to make sure we reach as many veterans and families as possible.

MAY: How do you think these changes will affect what veterans will see at future Supermarkets?

CANAVAGGIO: At future Supermarkets, we hope to have different kinds of programs attend by involving them earlier in the planning process. Some programs that could help veterans in need struggle to attend the Supermarket because they don’t have the time or resources to plan support for the event.

We would also like to see more support from behavioral health services, to support veterans coming back with TBI or PTSD. We have proposed a new sub-acute care unit at our Milledgeville nursing home to serve veterans recuperating from war injuries. If we can get the state to match federal funds, this would be a great resource to have represented at the Supermarket.

INGRAM: We hope to see local veterans get more involved in communicating with each other about the Supermarket. They talk, they network, and they help each other out. We want them to know we’re coming to their community so they can get the word out to other veterans they know.

MAY: You both have great ideas for future Supermarkets! Are you ready to see all of your planning come together at the Supermarket this week?

CANAVAGGIO: We’re expecting to see a substantial turnout for the Supermarket. The Athens team has handled a lot of moving parts and been extremely active in getting the local community ready. They’ve distributed a lot of flyers and spoken with local Veterans Service Organizations to make sure people know we’re coming.

The Supermarket of Veterans Benefits will be held at the Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas St., Athens, Georgia from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Veterans and their families who attend may park in the Classic Center’s parking deck. Parking is $1 per hour, credit cards only.

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Supermarket of Veterans Benefits

10 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2

Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas St., Athens, GA 30601

Parking is $1 per hour, credit cards only.