There's a new veterans affairs officer in town, and he says to "expect big things."
Andrew Biggio, a veteran of the Marine Corps who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, started this past Monday as the joint veterans affairs officer for both Wakefield and Melrose, a newly created position.
"We're very excited to have Andrew starting as the new veterans services officer for Melrose and Wakefield," said Ryan McLane, former veterans services officer in Melrose and the current director of veterans services in Melrose and Wakefield. "Mayor (Rob) Dolan and Town Administrator Steve Maio wanted to create a new model, not just for cost savings, but to improve benefit delivery to veterans."
Biggio said his first order of business is to spread awareness both among the community for veterans issues, and among veterans for what benefits they have at their disposal.
"I'm coming into a welcoming place for veterans - the first thing you see in town is the huge veterans monument - but I want to expand the work that’s already being done here," he said.
Biggio said he is also going to work to get more information online and out to the community through house visits, traditional media and social media.
"I'll be launching a Facebook and Twitter page and will be blogging," he said.
A passion for helping veterans
Veterans issues have developed into a true passion of Biggio's over the years. The 24-year-old has founded and worked with several non-profits and initiatives dedicated to veterans including They Fought, We Ride and the Boston Wounded Vet Run.
Biggio said what drives him is his understanding for what it's like for soldiers when they return, and his knowledge that many don't know where to go to get help.
"They come home and they feel empty, they feel like no one understands them, and they feel like outcasts," he said. "A lot of people can’t grasp that, and they feel like life is just slipping out of their hands."
Biggio said ensuring veterans get they help they need is especially important now, as many troops are returning home, and veteran suicides currently outnumber the number of combat deaths in Afghanistan, he said.
"We need to help prevent that, and to pump the constant awareness that veterans are a top priority so that veterans know they’re not alone," he said.
Although Biggio doesn't have an upcoming community event planned yet, he says he will soon, and will start getting the word out to the community. Until then, he'll be working out of the McCarthy Senior Center on Converse Street in Wakefield on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and in Melrose on Tuesdays from 9-4 p.m.
"I want to bring people together for a common cause, and to get people to realize this country has been at war for the last ten years," he said. "If veterans didn't volunteer, others would be forced to go, so it's important to make sure they get taken care of."