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Nashoba Publishing/John Love
Townsend Veterans agent, Joe Mazzola.

Staff Writer

TOWNSEND — The town has a new Veterans’ Agent, and for him the job feels like an extension of his 23 years of experience with the U.S. Army, said Joseph Mazzola. The representative for veterans issues was sitting in his new office at Memorial Hall, behind a stack of files on the desk in front of him.

After interviews with Mazzola and veteran Keith Jackson, the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 2 chose Mazzola to fill the agent’s position, which was left vacant for several months after the former agent retired.

“My predecessor, Norman Richards, did a wonderful job,” said Mazzola. There is a lot more to the job than people think, he said of the part-time position. It takes time to assess what benefits veterans might qualify for and the guidelines to receive those benefits are stringent, he said.

“To me, it’s helping these people achieve their benefits, and make it easy for them,” said Mazzola. “I’m picking up the ball and running with it.”

There is camaraderie among veterans, said Mazzola. Just having served in the military is their common thread.

Mazzola served two tours of duty in both Vietnam and Korea, and was stationed in Germany during the Cold War, he said. During his Army career, Mazzola served in the infantry and worked as an administrator. After serving in the Vietnam War — first for a year in 1965, then for a second tour in 1967 — he received a Silver Star for gallantry, the third-highest combat award given by the U.S. Army. Mazzola also holds two Bronze Stars, awarded for singular acts of meritorious or heroic achievement, and a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds suffered during combat.

Mazzola is modest about his medals — he declined to discuss the circumstances resulting in their awards — but hopes that his experiences will help veterans feel comfortable seeking his assistance, he said.

When Mazzola retired from the military in 1982 he was stationed at Ft. Devens. Later he purchased a home in Townsend, where he has lived for the past 25 years, he said. Mazzola liked the town, he said, and he was familiar with the area since he grew up in Worcester. Here he raised a family and worked as the building and grounds supervisor for the North Middlesex Regional School District for 17 years.

“When this job opened up, I’d been retired for six months,” said Mazzola. He knew he had enough time to commit to the job, and he wanted to find something to do with his time that would help people.

As of the 2005 census, there were 684 veterans living in town, according to Mazzola. He aims to reach those veterans and offer his assistance, he said.

World War II veterans and Vietnam veterans are getting older, Mazzola pointed out; as time passes, health problems they develop may be related to their military service. Even if they have applied for benefits before and were denied, they can reapply, he explained.

Moreover, more than 1.5 million men and women have served in Iraq; of the 700,000 or so claims processed for those men and women and their families, approximately one-third were approved for benefits, said Mazzola.

“I feel that there’s a lot of vets out there today that really don’t understand what benefits they have,” he said.

Some benefits that veterans or their families may be entitled to include:

* Special license plates available through the Registry of Motor Vehicles, for which renewal fees are waived.

* Assistance with financial hardships.

* Burial benefits.

* A $1,000 “Welcome Home” bonus.

* Medical and prescription assistance.

Veterans may be reluctant to apply for benefits because the forms are sometimes complex, Mazzola said, and they often require a lot of personal information. Cases will be handled confidentially, said the new veterans’ agent.

Although he has been learning the ropes from Fitchburg Veterans Agent T.J. Blauser, and logging a lot of hours n the process, Mazzola plans to hold regular office hours on Fridays, he said. He encourages veterans to visit, even just to introduce themselves and chat.

“We’re here, I’m here, I’m ready to do the job,” he said.

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