Maine’s first municipal veterans services office has taken off after two years, focusing on connecting Westbrook veterans to their benefits and each other, according to its director.
Westbrook’s Veterans Services office opened in January 2020 and got off to a slow start, said Arty Ledoux, who is also the city’s utility department operations manager and a veteran. Now, he answers several calls a week, ranging from veterans with health care questions to families seeking help with funeral arrangements.
Most importantly, Ledoux said he helps veterans access the benefits they are owed, cutting red tape, sometimes providing clarification and other times working through the process.
“Veterans are easily discouraged from going through the process, often thinking they don’t need the benefits,” Ledoux said in an interview last week. “Not only do they need these benefits, they are eligible for them and owe them.”
Former Legion Post 62 commander Roger Barr said Ledoux’s efforts were welcome and needed.
“I had a guy who lived in this senior neighborhood. In his electric wheelchair he drove to my house to seek help, and God almighty, he was driving down the road and could have killed himself, but he came to where the veterans were. Barr said. “I was there that day, spoke with him, got involved with Arty and the issue was resolved. There are a ton of stories like that.
Ledoux and his office helped families navigate “roadblock after roadblock after roadblock” to get their benefits, said American Legion Post 197 Commander Steve Girard. The office has been helpful in arranging funerals or finding benefits after the death of a loved one, he said.
The Westbrook Veterans Services Office has hosted events such as Coffee with a Veteran and plans to host a Veterans BBQ in the fall. Information is shared at these gatherings, but they also give veterans the opportunity to meet and connect.
“Arty has a way of talking to veterans and the benefit of this whole meeting is that veterans tend to gather around other veterans. This is just a fact. We seem to be able to talk better to each other.” said Girard.
During the first meeting over coffee, Girard said he was “surprised”.
“The quantity of people not afraid to talk to other vets, knowing they can would never be talk about these things outside of it bedroom,” Girard said.
Ledoux said he owes the city a lot of gratitude. After establishing the office, Mayor Mike Foley formed the Veterans Services Advisory Committee which helps plan events like the Memorial Day Parade and can provide resources with Ledoux. The committee includes Ledoux, Barr, Girard, former Mayor Mike Sanphy, veteran Mike Dubois and residents Alex Stone and Deb Shangraw.
“We owe a lot to our veterans, so we want to invest a lot of services, resources, and time to make sure our veterans get the services they deserve. It is important for me to specifically show them my support and to constantly thank them.“, Foley said.
Foley looks forward to the return of coffee events in the fall.
“I’m excited to continue doing our coffee sessions and with the upcoming BBQ, and I also look forward to seeing the work of the committee as they branch out from planning for Veterans Day and Memorial Day. to other critical issues like supporting homeless veterans,” Foley said. .
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