By: Carol Higgins Taylor
When Gloria Nadeau was 17, she took the civil service exam on the advice of a family friend. It never occurred to her the state job she applied for would still be her livelihood 35 years later.
“I just love working with the people,” said Nadeau, claims advocate for Maine Veterans’ Services. “I can’t imagine not having this job.
“I love talking to the WWII veterans,” Nadeau said. “They have so many stories and are so interesting to listen to. And a lot of them need to talk about the war. We also have a chance to speak with the spouses and understand what they are going through.”
Her office hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., but typically her day begins at 6:30.
“I come in early because there are a few of them that wait for the newspaper,” she said. “I’ll say, ‘your coffee is ready’ and they get big smiles on their faces.” Nadeau also bakes cookies and brownies for the veterans because “it’s something for them to look forward to.”
Veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Iraq have passed through her door looking for some help and many found it. In 2009, in the Bangor office alone, 617 awards were granted to veterans totaling more than $11 million dollars.
“A lot of veterans are eligible for benefits that they just don’t know about,” said Nadeau. There are wartime and peacetime benefits, including medical conditions that have been recently recognized by the government.
Post-traumatic stress disorder was heightened in some veterans by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was just like they were back in the war,” Nadeau said. “Some of them couldn’t even get out of bed. They had flashbacks.”
PTSD is characterized by feelings that include anxiety, jumpiness, a fear of crowds and trouble sleeping and concentrating. Those who suffer it are nervous, startle easily and often don’t feel safe.
PTSD has had many names through the years. It was called “railroad spine” in the 1860s and “soldiers heart” during the Civil War. The disorder was dubbed “shell shock” in WWI and “battle fatigue” in WWII. “Gross stress reaction” came with the Korean War and “delayed stress reaction” or “post-Vietnam syndrome” with the Vietnam War.
Since 1980, post-traumatic stress disorder has been listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s official diagnostic manuals and is just one of the things keeping Nadeau and Peter Hickey, veterans’ advocate, so busy.
“Some vets would not have even filed,” said Nadeau, adding that those with hearing loss may now be eligible for compensation.
“Many vets come in for help with the VA health care system, and we also help with non-service-connected pensions, burial benefits and family and survivor benefits,” she said.
“Sept. 28, ’08, the Department of Veterans Affairs established presumption of service connection for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for any veteran with at least 90 continuous days of active duty service who develops the disease any time after separation from service,” she said. “And widows can also apply for service-connected death benefits if the veteran died of ALS.”
The VA also is extending “Agent Orange” benefits to more veterans recognizing B cell leukemia, such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease, she added.
There are 19,000 veterans in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. While Nadeau may not know all of them, she has a soft spot in her heart for each and every one. And she works hard to make their lives easier.
“Because of what they did for our country, I just wanted to give them something back.” Nadeau said. “The veterans are a unique class of people.”
The Maine Veterans’ Services telephone number is 941-3005.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at email@example.com. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.