Peter Ogden, director of Maine’s Bureau of Veterans Services, is failing in his charge to support all veterans. While his efforts to help care for aging veterans and memorializing those who have passed are commendable, he has shown a consistent disrespect and lack of concern for anyone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I attended a meeting in December in Brunswick with state legislators, where Ogden laid out his agenda for the coming year.

He referred to the roughly 60,000 Maine veterans of America’s most recent wars as “kids” so many times that I lost count. This was only part of the insult, though, as his policy stance and inaction as a leader, revealed during the course of the meeting, proved more egregious than his insults.

He discussed a report conducted by the University of Maine, outlining the areas his agency needed to improve upon in order to serve the new generation of veterans returning to our state. He did not provide specifics of the report at the time, but I was able to obtain a copy after the meeting. Almost every statement he made about veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was false, and his stated policy agenda is not meant to address any of the issues outlined in the report.

For example, the report stated that returning veterans today are reluctant to seek help or take advantage of benefits for fear of being a burden on the system. But when Ogden was asked about the problems faced by this generation of veterans, he said, “Well, I think the kids today are saying, ‘You owe it to me, give it to me.’ If you push a red button and nothing happens, I think that’s the problem. I can tell a World War II guy, ‘Your claim, it will take a year to do your claim,’ he will be happy. If I tell a young kid today, (he’ll say) ‘Uh, I mean, why can’t that happen?'”

The report advised his office about many ways in which to reach out to veterans, centering mainly on information technology-based solutions. Ogden stated, “The young kids today come back and we don’t communicate the way they do. I don’t tweet, I don’t Twitter, I don’t do Facebook. I can barely answer my emails.” After citing staffing issues as an excuse for failure of his office to implement any of these recommendations, he then indicated that he would not be doing so any time soon.

At one point during Ogden’s talk, he gave a textbook definition of post-traumatic stress disorder and then told the room that veterans with PTSD were really just “lost” or “depressed.”

He then made a causal linkage to veteran unemployment, saying, “But that’s the same thing with jobs. We talk about all these jobs in Maine, you know. If you tell a kid coming back who’s a sergeant, earning all kinds of good money, having all sorts of responsibility, ‘Now you’re going to go get a job in construction or work at McDonald’s,’ they are not looking for that. So they may be great-paying jobs, but if it’s not something they want to do, they are not going to be interested in going to work.”

This spawned outrage among many veterans at the meeting, who had heard enough, and spoke out against him.

Ogden’s only response was, “See, this is part of my problem. I talked about it the last time I said it: I can tell you what I think they need, but I can’t tell you what they think they need. I think if you have heard me talk in the past, I have said that.”

The University of Maine report, conducted more than a year ago, could not have been clearer: “Of the 132,000 (veterans who live in Maine), approximately 60,000 are younger veterans of the country’s most recent wars. It is these veterans that are falling through the cracks as the Maine Bureau of Veterans Affairs struggles to find ways to communicate the benefits and assistance available to them.”

Those who have served this nation since the attacks of 9/11 just want to come home. When compared to initiatives by other states such as Oregon, the efforts of Ogden’s office do not look promising. It is time he started working with younger veterans or step aside.

Adrian Cole of Topsham is a former Army captain who served two tours of duty in Iraq as an artillery officer with the 101st Airborne Division. He serves as the adjutant for the Bath Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7738.

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