The money raised at the organization’s annual gala and auction will help cover expenses before benefits kick in.

Patriotism was at the heart of the Wounded Heroes Program of Maine’s third annual gala and auction at the U.S. Custom House in Portland on April 29. But the soul of the organization is compassion.

“Wounded Heroes basically saved my life,” said Joleen Mitchell of Casco, who was discharged from the Army in 2009 with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. “I’ve ended up paying it forward by helping other veterans as a member of team Wounded Heroes.”

The event raised $9,500 for the Wounded Heroes Program to help newly discharged service members pay for housing, utilities, phone bills, heating fuel – whatever they need in the short term while waiting for Veterans Administration assistance. But the program is also about advocating on the behalf of veterans, linking them with other resources and with a support network of veterans from multiple generations.

Pam Payeur of Biddeford founded the all-volunteer nonprofit in 2008 shortly after her son Michael came home from Iraq, battered both physically and emotionally.

“My mom started this organization realizing how hard it was to navigate the VA system and get the benefits we deserve and the medical treatment we need,” said Michael Payeur, who was shot, injured by an improvised explosive device and dealing with the trauma of losing 112 of his fellow service members. “I was her first case.”

As Pam Payeur fought for her son, she realized how many others needed someone to fight for them too. And that’s what she does full-time as executive director of Wounded Heroes, on call 24-7.

“The VA is a huge bureaucracy. It’s understaffed, underfunded, overwhelmed and antiquated. And Maine has more veterans per capita than any other state in the country,” Payeur said. “We’ve brought a lot of men and women from a very bad place and gotten them back on their feet again.”

“We help bridge the gap,” said event chairperson Kim Fickett of Baird Wealth Management. “A lot of Americans don’t think about what’s going on with our troops who are dealing with threats over there so those threats don’t come here. My sister has been deployed to war zones, and we don’t talk about it, but I know that at any given time she could be injured. They make the ultimate sacrifice for our personal freedom.”

The gala included a posting of the colors by the U.S. Army recruiting office of Saco, a flag-folding ceremony by Patriot Riders of America and music performances by the Maine Public Safety Pipes & Drum Corps and the Westbrook High School Chamber Singers.

“I don’t think a cause gets more worthy than this,” said Suzanne Proulx, who directed the Chamber Singers. “And it’s great for the kids to contribute.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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