Published in the May 11, 2016 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — New Veterans’ Services Officer Bruce Siegel is a familiar face in town, especially when it comes to paying tribute to the tremendous sacrifices made by veterans.
A Navy veteran himself who served during the Vietnam War, for the past several years he has proudly served as marshal of the town’s Memorial Day parade, leading the marchers on foot wearing his distinctive navy blue sailor’s uniform and crisp white sailor’s hat.
Since being appointed as the town’s Veterans’ Services Officer (VSO) by the Board of Selectmen – appropriately on Pearl Harbor Day this past Dec. 7 – Siegel has been busy familiarizing himself with the myriad of benefits available to assist veterans of all ages in town and their dependents.
“I am responsible for the management and administration of federal, state and local benefits to assist veterans, widows and dependents,” Siegel said, explaining that these services are defined under Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL).
Massachusetts has a rich history of caring for its veterans, having established the Department of Veterans’ Services back in 1861 to ensure that no veteran who served the state or nation with honor during war or other conflicts would ever be “pauperized” or forced to turn to public welfare for assistance.
By 1888, the soldiers’ Relief Act was enacted by the state, which gave cities and towns the right to support its honorably discharged veterans, their spouses, widows and minor children. In the post-WWII era, the Relief Act evolved into Chapter 115 of MGL. Adopted in 1946, it forms the basis of today’s benefits and services program, with particular attention paid to those veterans who may be ill, disabled, injured, unemployed or indigent, according to the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association Inc.
Under Chapter 115, a uniform program of financial and medical assistance is provided to qualifying veterans and their dependents to receive financial assistance for food, shelter, clothing, fuel and medical care. The eligible dependents of deceased veterans are provided with the same benefits. Veterans or their dependents apply for such benefits through the VSO in the community in which they live.
Siegel’s role is to “answer inquiries and provide assistance relative to many veterans’ issues, including but not limited to war bonuses, education and training, employment, tax abatement, VA medical care and burial benefits,” he said.
Officially, Siegel’s office hours at Lynnfield Town Hall in the Town Clerk’s office are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 10 a.m., but he is in the office generally from 8:30 a.m. to at least 11:30 a.m. both days. He also meets veterans by appointment, which can be made by calling him directly at 781-334-9440.
New programs introduced
The benefits available to veterans under federal, state and local laws change often, so it is advantageous for all veterans to inquire with the VSO periodically. Siegel said he “strives” to make local veterans aware of these changes as soon as he becomes aware of them each week.
“For instance, to meet a veteran’s short-term health care needs, the VA recently created the Choice Program. This temporary benefit allows some veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility,” Siegel said.
Another benefit that he is excited about is called “Aid & Attendance.” This benefit “provides financial benefits for war-era veterans and their surviving spouses who require the regular attendance of another person to assist in at least two of the daily activities of living, such as eating, bathing, dressing and undressing, transferring, and the needs of nature,” Siegel said. He added, “This benefit can be used for in-home care, board and care, assisted living communities and private-pay nursing homes.”
As Lynnfield’s VSO, Siegel’s role is not limited solely to one-on-one interactions with veterans seeking the benefits to which they are entitled. It also involves getting the community involved in publicly honoring the sacrifices made by the nation’s veterans.
“I am also responsible for the coordination of the local Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day ceremonies,” he said.
The state law requires that all veterans’ graves have a marker and flag placed on them in advance of the two holidays, he said. Siegel said the cemetery department has informed him that there are upwards of 1,000 veterans’ graves in town. Among them are the town’s native sons who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Several of these heroes are buried in the town’s two old burying grounds adjacent to the middle school and located on either side of the Centre Farm property. The fifth-graders in Mark Vermont’s Social Studies classes affix new flags to each gravestone marker prior to Memorial Day every year, which teaches them important lessons in civic pride and honoring the sacrifices made by the country’s veterans.
Siegel will continue the tradition of leading this year’s parade on Monday, May 30 as parade marshal. “If we could have more veterans either marching or just lining the parade route, it would be great,” he said.
Because the town’s cemeteries are located in various parts of town, the parade takes place in two parts. It starts at 8:30 a.m. in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Assumption Church at Salem and Grove Streets near Route 1.
“We leave OLA, cross the highway and visit the small cemetery on Salem Street. Then we come back across Route 1, go to the Willow Cemetery on Summer Street and then march to the South Fire Station. Then we break up and reconvene at the Middle School at 10 a.m.,” he said.
From the Middle School, the parade proceeds to the two small historic burying grounds located on either side of the Centre Farm property and continues past Town Hall, then turns left onto Forest Hill Avenue, where participants visit the Forest Hill Cemetery before returning to the town common around 11 a.m. Siegel will lead a brief ceremony followed immediately by a cookout provided free to the town’s residents.
Anywhere from 300 to 500 residents enjoy the catered cookout each year, which is funded through the Veterans’ Services budget, he said.
Stationed aboard USS Grant County
Siegel enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 18 in 1968 and served during the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1972. After attending boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., the Massachusetts native was stationed aboard the USS Grant County, a landing ship tank (LST), in Little Creek, Va.
“As an amphibious ship, our crew included Marines, their equipment and vehicles. We worked with the Marines in designing and carrying out various training missions, which included beach landings,” Siegel said.
He achieved the rank of 3rd Class Petty Officer as a Fire Control Technician (FT). “As an FT, I worked in the Gunnery Department and was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of our radar-driven target tracking system,” he added.
“We made several deployments as part of the 6th Fleet to both the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. In the Mediterranean, we visited Spain, Greece, Italy, France and Gibraltar,” Siegel recalled. “Our trips to the Caribbean included visits to Puerto Rico, Panama, Colombia, Jamaica and the Virgin Islands, as well as training exercises at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.”
Having grown up on the North Shore, visiting these exotic places was a thrill in itself for Siegel. “It was really amazing because I never would have had the opportunity to see any of those places had I not enlisted, so it was a great opportunity,” he said.
After their LST had dropped off the Marines in an appropriate spot for their training exercises, they were able to go on leave in these ports.
“Greece was pretty amazing because of the Acropolis, and we were able to see a lot of very historical parts of Athens,” he said, adding, “The Virgin Islands were amazing as well.”
Upon his discharge, he attended college under the GI Bill, graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell with a degree in accounting in 1976. He subsequently enjoyed a “diverse career in finance,” including controller positions in the private sector and management positions in the public sector.
“In 1994, I obtained a graduate-level Certificate of Special Studies in Administration and Management from Harvard University,” he said. Last June, Siegel retired after serving the commonwealth for 21 years, which included 10 years as an audit supervisor in the Office of the State Auditor and 11 years as the senior housing auditor in the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Clearly, Siegel enjoys giving back to his hometown. Prior to his appointment as VSO he was appointed by the selectmen to the Board of Directors of Lynnfield Initiative for the Elderly (LIFE), the oversight board of the town’s three village communities reserved for its elderly residents, for which he continues to serve.
Prior to that, he served for 10 years on the Board of Commissioners for the Lynnfield Housing Authority, the last five of which he served as its chairman.
On Monday night, as the VSO, Siegel was appointed by the selectmen as the ninth member of the newly created War Memorial Committee, which is comprised entirely of veterans from town. This committee will look for an appropriate site and design for a new, up-to-date war memorial in the town center and also identify private funding sources for this initiative.
Geraniumfest and Kids Day
As a sponsor of Townscape’s Geraniumfest and Kids Day festivities on Saturday, May 21 at the middle school, the Lynnfield Villager has invited Siegel to share space at the Villager’s table to provide an opportunity for community outreach. He’ll be showcasing the veterans’ services available to the town’s veterans of all ages, be they newly retired from active duty or veterans of many decades attending the event with their grandchildren.
Siegel will be present to answer questions anyone may pose about the myriad of services available to meet the needs of veterans. Those attending Townscape Kids Day who happen to be a veteran or who may be the son, daughter, spouse or sibling of veteran who could benefit from the services provided by the VSO are encouraged to introduce themselves, ask Siegel questions and take home the informational materials he will have available.