Vet to Vet peer companion Susan Sebestyen and veteran Jean Doe visit at Doe’s apartment. Photo contributed by Vet to Vet Maine

Jean Doe felt alone.

More than six decades earlier, the Portland native had joined the Navy, which offered her work and a sense of camaraderie she has treasured ever since.

Yet, by 2019, Doe had joined the thousands of Maine veterans struggling with health problems and isolation.

“I was here by myself and didn’t have anybody to speak of,” Doe remembered. “It makes it a very long day when you’re closed off from the world.”

Today, Doe and dozens of other veterans around Maine have reconnected with the world and their roots in the armed forces, thanks to Vet to Vet Maine, a nonprofit that offers companionship and support to former service members.

The group, which formed in 2014 as a program of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, matches “veteran friends” with volunteers, also vets, who are trained to find ways to improve their companions’ lives, Executive Director Susan Gold said.


“Our main goal is to reduce social isolation, but our second goal is to link them to services that can improve their quality of life,” she said. “The volunteer, in addition to being a friend, also has eyes and ears on the veteran, just to see if they need anything that we can help provide.”

Vet to Vet is one of several groups around the state that relies on former service members to reach veterans in need, said David Richmond, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services.

Veterans, particularly those who have been through the stress of combat, can struggle to trust or accept help from people who have never served in the military, he said. That can make it difficult to confront problems like the elevated veteran suicide rate, which sits 50% higher than that of the general population.

By harnessing the tight bonds many vets feel with their fellow service members, volunteers from groups like Vet to Vet can steer those in need to many health care, housing, educational and other resources.

“A lot of veterans in their service experience trauma through what they’ve done to serve our country,” Richmond said. “Who better to guide somebody back into civilian life than somebody that’s already made that transition?”

Vet to Vet has been life-changing for veteran friends like Doe, who since 2019 has enjoyed regular lunches, car rides and phone calls with her companion Susan Sebestyen.


That’s just as true for volunteers like Freeport’s David Backman, who over the course of seven years and countless trips to Dunkin’ Donuts, has developed close bonds with two World War II veterans.

“We both derived so much out of it,” he said of his first companion, who died in 2019. “It really is mutually beneficial — that’s true for everyone.”

Vet to Vet currently has 61 companion pairs and 18 more veteran friends waiting for a match and is hoping to expand farther up the coast to reach more veterans in Brunswick, Bath and beyond, Gold said. She promised volunteers in the area won’t regret signing on to help their former brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

“They’ve served this country, yet they’re left to face all of these issues alone,” she said. “We all owe a debt of gratitude, and we all owe these folks some attention and help when they need it.”

Prospective volunteers, who must be veterans willing to connect with their match at least once every two weeks, can apply at or by emailing

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