By Ed Pierce
As Americans remember the sacrifices made by military members this Veterans Day, Windham’s Dennis Brown is helping organize a forum to assist veterans and first responders who are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The event will be in-person, live-streamed from the Veterans Forward social media, and broadcast nationally via Wreaths Across America radio. Participants will learn about what PTSD is, gain a better understanding of the causes of PTSD, what symptoms those suffering from PTSD exhibit, how treatment works, how to live with PTSD or how to live with someone with PTSD, and where to get help.
“This event grew from two Vietnam veterans I’ve come to know over the past two years,” Brown said. “One was a medic and the other on the front lines. Both have PTSD and other ailments resulting from their time in the military. I am on a town committee with the wife of one of the two. Her husband was wounded, splashed with agent orange, and has been blind for the past 10 years are a result of his service in the Army. The wife knew I am a volunteer with Veterans Forward and gave me the book “Invisible Storm” by Jason Kander about his experience with PTSD and the impact to him and his family.
Brown said as he read the book it became clear to him that members of the general public doesn’t know enough about this brain injury, and when he finished the book, he took the idea of a PTSD forum in Portland that could be streamed statewide to reach as many veterans and their families a possible to the Veterans Forward Advisory Board.
“The Veterans Forward Board agreed to the idea, and we began the planning, recognizing that this was never intended to be a fundraiser, but more of a public service,” he said. “After reading the book and reflecting on the way the lives of both the Vietnam veterans’ families have been impacted, I was compelled to shine a bright light on PTSD, and convinced my Veterans Forward Board to host this event. I was able to get Jason Kander join us as our keynote speaker and gather a terrific panel of experts. We realized that first providers often can suffer the same trauma and opened up the forum to that group of citizens as well and have received very good response from both fire and police departments across the state.”
According to Brown, Maine Veterans Forward is a subsidiary of Fedcap, a large nonprofit company. The Maine division has 16 offices throughout the state and services veterans as an agent of the state to manage housing, education and other services helping them get back on their feet.
“A group of volunteers who originally were members of the Easter Seals Veterans Count organization found Fedcap when Easter Seals left the State of Maine a little over two years ago,” Brown said. “The volunteers recognized that the need for veteran support was still there and found Fedcap, who happily took us in as an advisory board. Veterans Forward fit in well with their Families Forward program and name, and the new organization was born.”
Brown says that by coordinating efforts, Veterans Forward is there to provide a helping hand to veterans who are in need.
“That could be homelessness, mental health issues, financial distress, or other issues,” he said. “We provide a ‘hand up, not a hand-out.’ We are not helping veterans who need lifetime support, there are other organizations who do that. We focus on those who just need a hand to get over an obstacle that prevents them from moving on with their lives. It could be training to go to a job interview or getting their car fixed to be able to hold onto a job. We found out on a Friday last winter that a veteran’s furnace failed in the coldest weekend of the season. They had tried to get the furnace serviced, but no one could make it until the following week. We immediately bought them some portable electric heaters to get them warm while we reached out to our contacts to find someone who would repair their furnace. We found someone, and the furnace was fixed that evening.”
He said that many homeless veterans were caught between emergency housing during the COVID period, but those funds ran out.
“We were able to put them into hotels for a few days while we worked with other agencies in the state to obtain permanent housing for those veterans,” Brown said.
“Veterans Forward has been successful in winning Federal grants to provide the base funding that we need, including a Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program grant for $500,000, and a Veterans Financial Assistance Program for $100,000. Both of those grants are wonderful, but they do come with certain restrictions, so the Veterans Forward Advisory Board fundraises to fill in the gaps where the grants cannot help. We have worked with WGAN and Bill Dodge for a huge car show in October, although this year’s event was postponed because of weather, and then cancelled because of the risks of holding it during the Lewiston shooting aftermath. We have a Radiothon in the spring where we raise funds as well as a number of smaller, though just as important, events all year long.”
The Help and Healing PTSD forum will include an expert panel of professionals from throughout Maine, including Hope and Healing, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and more. As keynote speaker, Kander brings a wealth of experience and a compelling personal journey to the event. He served as a military intelligence officer in Afghanistan investigating corruption, espionage, and drug trafficking. He founded Let America Vote, an initiative to combat voter suppression in elections. Since 2019, Kander has served as the President of National Expansion at the Veterans Community Project, making substantial strides in preventing veteran suicide and homelessness. His personal story of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder makes him a powerful and relevant speaker for the forum.
To register to attend the forum, or for more information about Maine Veterans Forward, visit www.maineveteransforward.org. <