As a veteran who works with veterans, Shawn Conour was taking in as much information as he could during a veterans fair Friday.
Conour, who works in the Merced College Veterans Resource Center, is just one of the roughly 300 veterans attending Merced College who had a chance to ask questions Friday at a California Department of Veterans Affairs expo.
He said he learned the first year out of the armed services is vital when it comes to receiving benefits.
"If they haven't filed with (the Department of Veterans Affairs), and they're still within that year, it's crucial that they do," said the 24-year-old veteran, who was stationed in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. "It streamlines the process."
Friday's fair was full of information on school, health care, job placement and other benefits for men and women who have served.
Jim Kanabay, Merced County's veterans services officer, said the college is a good venue for reaching veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kanabay said veterans who are recently home from the service are the least likely to seek help.
"(They) don't want to have to deal with maybe some of the issues that are underneath," he said. "Those issues manifest themselves in your relationships, and your ability to concentrate, and a whole lot of things."
Kanabay said veterans who work with the VA can connect to the programs they need.
VA staff were on hand to give veterans a medical assessment so they could enter the system.
Kathleen Humphrey, a nurse with the VA, said the exam allows staff to screen for alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness and a number of other physical or mental health problems.
The expo's most important function was education, she said.
"We want people to understand there's a multitude of services available to them," Humphrey said. "Many are not aware."
For veterans who missed the fair, the Merced College Veterans Resource Center has information on all of the benefits available to women and men.
The center is in the Student Union Building and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.