Service and Sacrifice: Former State Legislator Leads Program to help Maine Veterans

Helping treat Maine veterans after service.

(Tory Ryden, NEWS CENTER) -- “They always say you stand on the shoulders of the people who went before you and I think in many cases that is very, very true,” and, in Charlie Summers’ case, that’s a long line of relatives stretching back in history; a record of service woven into the fabric of who he is.

“With me, my father, my uncle, my great uncle, my grandfather, World War 1, World War 2, Korea, going back to the Civil War,” he recounted from his Portland office at the Easter Seals.  He is the Executive Director of the Northern New England program and overseas the financial arm of the group’s Military and Veterans Services program.   Veterans Count helps to augment the cost of providing physical and mental health services to Armed Forces in Maine.  Currently, they describe an “overwhelming crisis” facing the nation in meeting the needs of soldiers who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan; one that only continues to grow.  Thousands of injured military service members are returning home with hopes of successfully transitioning to civilian life, yet many communities are not equipped to respond appropriately to their unique needs.

Charlie Summers understands the soldiers’ plight.  He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as a Public Affairs Officer.  Here in Maine, he is one of the 128 thousand veterans which translates to nearly 13 percent of the state’s population.  “That’s a big number and it tells you a couple of things: one, Mainers are obviously proud and patriotic individuals who serve their state and serve their nation and do it very, very well, but with a larger number like that, and particularly with the conflicts the nation has faced in the last 15 years, you’re seeing a great need.”

Soldiers, after all, are fighting a very different war than their parents and grandparents---and returning home with very different, very difficult issues.  “Whether you’re talking about anxiety, depression, issues surrounding suicide, talking about job issues, people are coming back who are unemployed. PTSD, traumatic brain injury and many of those issues don’t manifest themselves immediately upon return from service, it might take four or five years to begin to see that.”

And Summers know that the work he is heading up is critical, here in Maine, and around the country.  He is working to reverse a tragic trend.  According to the  Department of Veterans Affairs—the VA---roughly 22 veterans commit suicide around the country every day—that’s one veteran taking his or her own life every 65 minutes.  “We’ve intervened successfully 109 times in suicide attempts.”

For Summers, reaching veterans and their families at their most vulnerable and emotionally difficult time is both gratifying and a blessing.  He says he’s proud that Veterans Count can lift very difficult situations.  “Say if their car happens to be giving them problems and they need to get to work or a job interview we’ll pay to have their car repaired.  If their roof is leaking and their spouse isn’t home and their pay is lagging behind and they’re missing car payments or mortgage payments, veterans count will come in and bridge that gap.”

Charlie Summers says, bottom line, the focus is on getting veterans, our veterans, back on their feet, back to living healthy lives.

“Obviously someone’s in a very difficult and dark place and to actually have people here that I can help support whose job is to bring people kind of back form the abyss, that’s a very nice thing to be able to say that you’re part of.”

To learn more about the services offered through the Military and Veterans Services or to support Veterans Count Maine, contact Jeremy at jkendall@eastersealsme.org or call (207) 828-0754 extension 1014.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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