MACHIAS, Maine — The woman who won more than $400,000 in back benefits from the military for claims related to sexual assaults when she was in the U.S. Navy has used some of that money to buy a house where veterans living Down East will be able to get help in obtaining social and health services.
Ruth Moore, 47, of Milbridge plans to work with the University of Maine at Machias to allow students who want to become counselors or work in social services to live in the four-bedroom house, located at 12 School St., as part of an internship. The long-term plan includes converting a garage into a 12-bed homeless shelter for veterans and building an addition that would house homeless veterans with families.
“We want to be a resource for Washington County veterans,” she said. “We want to have a 24/7 presence eventually. The Machias area doesn’t have consistent services. We want to be available 24/7 so if we have a vet who needs something, we can jump on it.”
Moore used much of the settlement money to found Internity, a nonprofit organization, to help veterans get access to benefits, services and health care. The foundation bought the house, built at the turn of the 20th century, for $31,000 from a bank.
Plans for the center are contingent upon community support and grant funding, Moore said in December during an open house for an after-hours event sponsored by the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.
Initially, the center will house offices for the foundation and a service provider who will help veterans connect with services to which they are entitled.
The first phase of the project is underway with the repair of the front steps and the replacement of a side deck that will include a handicap-accessible ramp. The house, to be known as the Maine Veterans’ Resource and Wellness Center, also needs insulation, a water heater, an oil tank and plumbing repairs. Each room in the house will be named after a veteran, some from Maine, others from other parts of the country.
Moore said Tuesday that the goal is to open the facility by the end of January once a new furnace and hot water heater have been installed.
Machias Town Manager Christina Therrien said Tuesday that she was not aware of any zoning laws that would impact Moore’s plans. She said the property tax bill on the house, that will no longer be in the tax base because it now is owned by a nonprofit, was $1,911.80 in 2015.
Since starting the foundation in 2014, Moore has partnered and will continue to do so with other agencies including veterans’ organizations, local service groups and law enforcement agencies.
As an example, Moore said that Internity last year worked with the Washington Hancock Community Agency to help a Vietnam veteran attending a college in Washington County and living in a dorm to remain there over the semester break. She declined to name the school.
“He was going to be homeless over the break,” she said. “The school said their policy was that no student could remain in a dorm over break. [The foundation] can think outside the box, sometimes, so we asked if the school could make him a work-study student for two weeks and have him work cleaning the dorms. Schools officials said, ‘That, we can do.’”
Moore said that much of the foundation’s work is educating veterans on what benefits are available and how to access them. For example, many don’t realize they don’t have to leave the community to receive medical treatment because their local provider can be reimbursed by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We are the third most patriotic state in the nation with 120,000 veterans in Maine,” Moore said Tuesday, referring to a Nov. 11, 2014, Washington Post story that said Montana, Alaska and Maine had the most veterans per capita. “About half don’t get any VA services.”
She estimated the number of veterans in Washington County could be as high as 19,000.
Moore, who grew up poor in Pembroke, enlisted in the U.S. Navy when she was a high school student, according to a story published in 2013. She was a bright teenager who was excited about her future in the military, but those dreams were violently derailed when she was sexually assaulted twice by her immediate supervisor — once in retaliation for her asking the military chaplain for help — while stationed at a base in the Azores. After being assaulted, Moore grew despondent and tried to kill herself, which led to Navy officials throwing her into the brig — the military jail — for a few days.
Eventually, she was able to fight for her rights and dedicated her life to helping other veterans negotiate what can appear to be an unwieldy and unfriendly government agency.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree helped her to fight for the back benefits, Moore said. Pingree in 2013 first introduced the Ruth Moore Act, a bill aimed at reducing the standard of proof for victims of military sexual assault so that they can more easily obtain benefits.
It has passed twice in the U.S. House of Representatives but has stalled in the U.S. Senate.
For information on Internity, visit internityonline.org or call 619-1413.
BDN writer Abigail Curtis contributed to this report.