BANGOR, Maine — When Paul Halverson returned from Vietnam after serving two tours of duty, he was suffering from shell shock and side effects from Agent Orange and didn’t know whom to turn to for help.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with anything military,” he said Tuesday morning. “There was virtually no organizations around that [we] could trust and talk to.”
That was until he found the Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit group established by veterans to help veterans.
“The DAV is not funded by the federal government at all,” Halverson said, adding that “the DAV knows how to cut through” government red tape and get military veterans the help they need.
Halverson is reaching out to veterans from the Gulf War of the 1990s and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to let them know about the services the DAV offers.
To get the word out, Halverson, 62, of Duluth, Minn., decided to ride a bicycle from Seattle to Bangor, staying with disabled veterans along the way. He started in May and arrived in the Queen City on Tuesday afternoon with two small flags attached to his bike — a U.S. flag and a black-and-white MIA-POW flag.
“I wanted the longest route” to get the most exposure, Halverson said Tuesday by phone from a Newport motel room where he stayed Monday. He selected Bangor “because it seemed like the biggest town, the furthest east I could go where there would be an airport.”
Disabled veterans across the country have been instrumental in bringing issues such as shell shock, now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, to the forefront to ensure those suffering from problems get treatment, said George Mathis, DAV Maine senior vice commander.
“He’s doing this for veterans’ awareness,” he said Tuesday. “That’s what this is all about.”
Wayne Cartier, president of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said, “He done good — wicked good. He’s doing this for all veterans, old and new.”
Soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq already are reporting health problems, including eye trouble and asthma believed to be caused by the dustlike sand, Halverson said. He stressed that all returning military should be evaluated even if they don’t feel they have any health problems.
“Get rated, even if it’s a zero,” he said. “Once you’re in the system, it will make it easier to file a claim” down the road if a problem arises.
“Once those guys get out of there, that is when their problems really are going to start,” Halverson said of current military members serving overseas. The Vietnam veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, said he knows this from experience.
Halverson left Newport at 10 a.m. and arrived at Central Maine Harley-Davidson in Hermon around 1 p.m.
“Harley-Davidson has donated around a million dollars to the DAV,” Brian Oliver, operations manager for the local dealership, said Tuesday.
Oliver said he’s also a big supporter of the DAV.
“It’s in appreciation of our veterans,” he said of his contributions. “I hope they get the health care that they need.”
The Minnesota native said his Gary Fisher bicycle, nicknamed “the good times,” is no Harley, but he and others in the DAV appreciate the support from the motorcycle company.
He had five flat tires on the 4,306-mile trek and one broken chain.
Halverson started his trip in Everett, Wash., just north of Seattle, on May 15 with his daughter Shara Halverson, 27, running alongside. She flew into Maine on Monday to run the last five miles beside her dad as he ended his countrywide trip at Davenport Park on Main Street around 2:45 p.m.
The Bangor Police Department provided an escort from the Hermon town line, and Mayor Gerry Palmer was at the park to welcome him to the Queen City.
“It’s been a great ride from sea to shining sea,” Halverson said.