Nonprofit and government agencies that help Maine veterans are proud of those they serve. That’s no surprise. But they have another point of pride: An eagerness to collaborate without protecting their own turf, while addressing needs from housing to a veteran’s sense of self-worth upon returning to civilian life.

The agencies and organizations that exist to serve veterans coming home are vast and varied, ranging from new “boots on the ground” service groups to the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, which was founded in 1947.

“We’re all in this together,” said Jeremy Kendall, an Air Force veteran and Easterseals Maine director of military and veterans services, which started in 2013 and recently opened an office in Bangor.

Adria Horn, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, echoed that sentiment. Veterans and their family members turn to her agency for help with a variety of specific tasks, such as securing military discharge documents; applying for health care and other U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits; signing up for state education benefits for spouses and children of veterans killed in action or totally disabled as result of service; and getting free state park passes and hunting and fishing licenses.

But through its website and seven offices, the bureau dispenses information about all sorts of government and nonprofit veteran programs. Horn stressed that its core mission, which she’s expanded since taking office in 2015, is advocating for veterans. If an organization “may be connected to veterans, it’s open business for me,” said Horn, a 2001 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who served 10 years of active duty and is an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel.

Under her tutelage, the bureau held its first Homeless Summit and hired a veteran homelessness liaison. A new case management system lets clients access services at any agency office. The bureau lobbied for a new state law guaranteeing that minimally qualified veteran applicants for state jobs get an interview. The invite list for quarterly veteran affairs meetings with the governor was expanded. Attendees must now bring along a veteran – Maine has more per capita than most states.


The bureau is active on social media and usually responds to Facebook messages within a few hours. Its revamped website’s “resources” page, with a map that helps users access 400-plus organizations that serve Maine veterans, won a national award. The agency also encourages newcomers to veteran services to contact it by email or phone.

Horn’s agency works closely with the Maine Department of Labor to promote the Maine Hire-A-Vet Campaign. Started in 2015, last year it helped 197 veterans get jobs at 147 companies. With Veterans Day in mind, the labor department program is trying to place 100 veterans in jobs at 100 companies in 100 days.

The department’s dozen CareerCenters have representatives who work with veterans and employers on a variety of employment issues, such as veterans who seek assistance translating military terms for their resumes, said Air Force veteran Auta Main, the labor department veterans’ program manager.

Last year, a poster at Portland’s VA office on Stevens Avenue led David Katende to the local CareerCenter and Easterseals office. He had been couch surfing after leaving a job to tend to family matters in his native Uganda and had recently wrapped up six years in the Maine Army National Guard. Among other things, Easterseals helped him find an apartment and get to job interviews.

The CareerCenter connected Katende, a University of Southern Maine graduate, with Bath Iron Works, where he now works as a planning technician. His starting pay of $23 per hour is just cents above Hire-A-Vet’s average. “They worked hand in hand,” he said of Easterseals and the CareerCenter, helping him overcome a fear of being judged.

Without the structure of military life, Susan Slick said she and her family felt lost after moving to her home state of Maine in 2014 after her husband retired from the Air Force, where she had also served. A Google search led them to the Maine Military & Community Network, part of a national effort to link veterans with local resources. The couple was directed to Easterseals Maine and other resources to help them. Now, she said, they are working and settled into the community, and she now serves on the board of the community network’s Bangor chapter.


In Easterseals’ last fiscal year, it assisted 631 veterans – nearly double the number it helped the year before – with everything from home maintenance to health care. Some government-funded veteran programs are restricted to those who are low-income or served in certain conflicts, but its Veterans Count chapters raise money that can be used to help any veteran. The southern Maine chapter’s fundraisers have included a Toast on the Coast gala and a radio-thon.

At the new northern Maine chapter’s recent kickoff, Army veteran Tony Posuniak spoke about becoming a nurse post-service, getting great performance reviews – but being told by his employer that his energy was “too intense.”

He resigned in frustration, saying that made him question his self-worth. Easterseals, in turn, became a refuge and a resource for him.

“They’ll get you the help you need when you need it the most,” said Posuniak, who’s working as a nurse again and helping start a “boots on the ground” Bangor-area veterans service group.

One of Easterseals’ closest collaborators is social service agency Preble Street’s statewide program to prevent homelessness among veterans. Easterseals has also partnered with the Maine Veterans Project, a small, all-volunteer organization based Down East, to repair homes for struggling and disabled veterans.

Navy veteran Shawn Goodwin, the group’s founder, is spearheading a venture to take at-risk veterans skydiving in hopes of lowering their debilitating stress. Like the American Legion and other traditional military fraternal groups, such newer organizations are developing community networks that support veterans in a variety of ways.


The Summit Project brings veterans and others together to honor Maine military members who have died in service since 9/11. Individual memorial stones are taken on hikes and other physical challenges. Participants learn and share the stories of these “fallen heroes” and write letters to their families.

“It’s programs like this that allow veterans to take that passion and purpose they had in the military and continue it in their communities,” said Marine Corps veteran Greg Johnson of Standish, the all-volunteer group’s executive director. “Once they are involved, they don’t want to stop.”

As the U.S. war on terrorism, fought by an all-volunteer military, continues, many veterans are experiencing mental health or emotional issues related to repeated deployments – a phenomenon that was not typical in earlier conflicts.

Many veterans may need services years after leaving military service, noted Horn, who was deployed five times and sought “personal recalibration” after serving in the Army’s military police corps and psychological operations.

She recalled meeting a Vietnam War veteran who said he was tired of “living in the woods” and wanted to change his life. One of Horn’s top concerns is that many veterans and their families are not aware of her agency and the help it can offer.

“We know we are missing people,” she said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Mary Ruoff is a freelance writer in Belfast.

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