The Disabled American Veterans Department of Maine’s 41st state convention was held May 1-3 at the Four Points Sheraton at the Bangor Airport. The department has met there each year for about 12 years, according to a news release from Ron Brodeur, DAV Department of Maine treasurer and advisor. A commitment was made to meet there after 9/11 when deployments began, to join the Troop Greeters in greeting the Troops that departed or returned home when the department was there.

Gov. Paul LePage and first lady Ann LePage helped open the convention May 1. At the end of their comments, the Commander of Chapter 1 (Augusta) Rob McQuillan presented the first lady a donation for the Travis Mills Foundation.

On Friday and Saturday, briefings and Q&A were given by Ryan Lilly, VA Maine Medical Center director; Adria Horn, the new director of Maine Veterans’ Services; senior staff from the VA Regional Office at Togus; and members of the staff of the Bangor Veterans’ Home. An informative briefing also was given by the folks from Maine Honor Flight about the work they are doing in getting World War II Veterans (and other veterans) to Washington to see the WWII Memorial.

The State DAV Auxiliary held an auction Saturday that raised almost $2,000 for supporting veterans programs. Kevin Mannix was the auctioneer. After the banquet, Country Music Star Debbie Myers sang for members and guests. Myers is very involved with veterans’ programs in Maine and especially with homeless veterans’ initiatives. She will host her 6th annual Homeless Veterans’ Benefit on Sunday, Sept. 20, at the Augusta Civic Center. Myers and friends have raised more than $100,000 for homeless veterans during the past five years.

Honored guests from our DAV Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky were Jim Marszalek, the DAV National Service directorm and Dorothy Reese, DAV Auxiliary, National, 4th junior vice commander.

Congressman Bruce Poliquin also attended Saturday’s banquet and Sen. Susan Collins was the keynote speaker. After Collins speech, she and Poliquin assisted State Commander George Kanelos and Marszalek in the presentation of annual awards.

Four of the award winners will compete at the National level of DAV where they will compete in each category with nominees from the 50 state organizations. The top winners nationally will be presented their awards at the 94th National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado. Those in competition at National are Gunning, Albert, Rush and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

Award winners:

• Special Achievement Award — Daniel G. Berard Sr., of Sidney.

Berard is a DAV member of Chapter 1 in Augusta. He is retired, he served in the Navy as a corpsman. He is very active in the DAV and has previously been the award winner of the Disabled Veteran of the Year. This special award is to thank him for his significant efforts and his continue dedication to the DAV Organization.

• Outstanding Veterans Health Administration Member of the Year for Maine — Gretchen Rush, RN, of Benedicta.

Rush was nominated for this award by Ryan Lilly the hospital director at Togus. She is the clinic manager for the Lincoln and Houlton CBOCs which are part of the VA Maine Health Care System, Togus. Her dedication to providing outstanding care to the veterans that she serves was a primary reason for her selection for this years award.

• Outstanding Veterans Benefits Administration Member of the Year for Maine — John L. Albert, of West Gardiner.

Albert was nominated by the DAV National Service Officer James Laverdiere for this award Togus VA. For the period of this award, Albert was the Homeless Veterans Claims coordinator for Togus Veterans Benefit Administration office. He was extremely dedicated to doing everything in his power to help homeless veterans achieve there personal goals.

• Maine Employer of the Year — Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office — Sheriff Randall Liberty, of Clinton.

Liberty accepted the award on behalf of his department. The award is based on numerous initiatives for veterans. His department has a very high employment rate of veterans. Liberty is a veteran as well and a member of the DAV. He and his department are well known for the efforts they put forth in not only hiring veterans but in helping veterans with PTSD issues, and helping incarcerated veterans to become contributing successful members of the community, just to mention a few.

• Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year for Maine — George Gunning, of Windsor.

Gunning is a DAV member and is well known in the veterans community in Maine. He is a veteran of the Navy. He has made over 2,500 personalized Eagle canes for veterans throughout the state and at no cost to the veterans. He was recognized recently by Sen. Augus King on the Senate floor for his work. “… George and Donna Gunning of Windsor began making the eagle canes approximately 8 years ago, after learning about a similar project in Oklahoma that aims to help post – 9/11 veterans with combat-related injuries. The Gunnings saw an opportunity to help veterans in their state, and began making canes for Maine veterans from any conflict from any time.” He responds immediately to requests from individuals and organizations. While accepting his award, Gunning surprised another member with a presentation of his 2,500th cane to Ron Brodeur, of Chelsea, for his work with DAV and service to his country. Brodeur is actively involved with the DAV Department of Maine.

• Lifetime Achievement Award — Richard J Brunelle Jr., of North Berwick.

Brunelle has been dedicated to helping veterans file claims and provide any other assistance needed by veterans and their families. He has been the commander of Chapter 19 of the DAV in Sanford since 2005 and is alsocurrently the first junior vice commander for the DAV Department of Maine. Brunelle served in the US Marine Corps. He has been a DAV life member since 2001. In part, this award is presented in recognition of his lifetime endeavors and significant and lasting contributions towards bettering the lives of disabled veterans.

• Honorable Service Award — Michael C. Noyes.

“Thank you for your commitment and dedication to Maine veterans’ issues and your outstanding efforts in solving complex veterans’ compensation claims problems on behalf of Senator Susan Collins.” That’s the citation on the plaque. Noyes is an outstanding individual. The department has been working with his to solve veterans’ issues for at least 15 years.