WATERVILLE — Residents on Monday attended a Veterans Day parade in downtown Waterville and gathered outside City Hall to pay homage to those who have served in the U.S. military.

Meanwhile, another group of veterans met at a pig roast at the Waterville Elks Lodge to raise funds for a program that helps them help themselves: the Veteran Mentors of Maine, which connects veterans with resources that further their health and welfare and benefits the Maine Veterans Treatment Court.

The parade, led by the Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5 in Waterville, began at the former legion headquarters off College Avenue shortly after 10 a.m. Marchers proceeded downtown and gathered outside City Hall on Castonguay Square, the park commons area named for Arthur L. Castonguay, the first soldier from Waterville to be killed in action in World War I.

“God bless America and God bless Waterville,” said Craig Bailey, of Waterville, who was in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 2019, and is the commander of American Legion Post 5, which organized the parade. “(I am) proud to be an American and a vet. And all the people out here to support us, every time it makes me feel proud.”

Bailey, standing on the steps of City Hall with Pearley Lachance, the legion chaplain, led a 10-minute ceremony under gray skies and temperatures in the low 30s. Lachance opened with a prayer recognizing all veterans from all past conflicts, concluding that “we understand that freedom is not free and we recognize the sacrifice they made.”

The Waterville Senior High School band played an ensemble of American music following the prayer, and Bailey thanked everyone for gathering. Bailey said some people wondered whether the parade would happen this year, and answered it will “continue to happen as long as the American Legion is here.” The legion sold its former College Avenue building and has since moved to a new location on Drummond Avenue.

Typically, the Veterans Day ceremony in Waterville involves a guest speaker, but Bailey said he’d try something different and instead read aloud three poems that family members wrote. The poems, contained in an Army-Navy service book, included the clippings that were published in the Waterville Sentinel during World War Two. Among selections from the poems, “in our thoughts, you are still here; in spirit, we are with you, my dear. … We’re all behind you, every one.”

Bailey concluded by saying everyone gathered here on the 101st anniversary of Armistice Day came to honor those who “defend and serve the Constitution of the United States,” and he encouraged those in attendance to thank a veteran that day and every day “for the freedom you have.”

Coast Guard veteran Jepthah Hardison, of Augusta, serves himself some pulled pork Monday at the Veteran Mentors of Maine pig roast fundraiser in Waterville.

At the Waterville Elks Lodge Banquet and Conference Center on Industrial Street, Veteran Mentors of Maine hosted a pig roast. The organization is a nonprofit that helps connect veterans in the state with resources to promote their “health, welfare and dignity,” according to its website.

It also helps people navigate the Maine Veterans Treatment Court, through which veterans can get lesser charges in exchange for the completion of a rehabilitation program that addresses military-related substance abuse and mental health disorders.

There are about 10 mentors currently working with the nonprofit , according to James Orr, president of Veteran Mentors of Maine and a retired master sergeant in the army. The group is based in Kennebec County, where the first Maine Veterans Treatment Court formed in 2011. The nonprofit is expanding to other counties and looking to add more volunteers as the veterans court program grows across the state, according to Orr. It most recently developed a presence in Cumberland County, he added.

“We’re there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My phone’s always on,” said Orr. “If they get themselves in a jam or are about to use, I’m a phone call away and will meet them wherever.”

Orr said that veterans of war often end up in the criminal justice system on charges that stem from hardship they endure in the military. The most common offenses veterans are charged with upon returning home are operating under the influence and domestic violence, according to an official from the Maine Veterans Treatment Court who declined to provide a name because the office prohibits speaking with media.

“Some of the veterans come back from being in combat and they have PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, but they’re not diagnosed because they don’t go to the VA,” Orr said. “Then they might have two to three OUIs back to back because they’re trying to self medicate for PTSD with alcohol or drugs.”

Travis Carrigan, of Augusta, finds a seat at the Veteran Mentors of Maine pig roast fundraiser Monday in Waterville. Carrigan is one of about 20 veterans with the nonprofit organization who mentor other veterans as they readjust to everyday life.

A lot of the work that Veteran Mentors of Maine does helps steer veterans away from that type of self-medicating and toward resources like mental health counseling and treatment for substance abuse disorders.

The funds that the group raises through annual fundraisers like the one on Monday goes toward sponsoring overnight trips that help build camaraderie and support as well as providing newly housed veterans with care packages and food vouchers.

Since the organization was founded in 2013, the group has sent a delegation annually to Wreaths Across America, a national ceremony to lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.

Last year’s Veterans Day fundraiser gave the group $3,000, a record the organization tried to break this year with its raffle, though a final count had not been completed by press time.

Travis Carrigan, of Augusta, was one of the veterans at Monday’s celebration. Carrigan said he is currently completing his second Maine Veterans Treatment Court program and is also a mentor to others in the system through Veteran Mentors of Maine.

“The court is one of the biggest opportunities we can have,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to rehabilitate your life that most people do not get.”

He explained that without support, it is easy to fall back on dangerous behaviors.

“A lot of people really struggle with drinking,” Carrigan said. “It’s part of the culture (in the military). When you’re out, it’s a crutch to fall back on. It’s legal, it’s in every store, it’s in your face.”

Carrigan and others in the Maine Veterans Treatment Court program participate in random drug and alcohol tests, get individualized mental health and substance use treatment plans, are connected with the VA to make sure they are accessing the benefits available to them and meet regularly with a case manager.

They must hit a series of benchmarks — like negative drug/alcohol test results for a minimum of 90 days — to successfully complete the program to receive the lessened sentence, which typically takes 14 to 16 months, according to the official associated with the treatment court. In return, the veteran must enter a guilty plea for the crimes that brought them to the court.

The program has allowed Carrigan to show people that he can be “responsible and trustworthy,” he said. Avoiding jail time allows him to spend treasured time with his 7-year-old daughter, Karissa.

“I get the chance to be the dad that she deserves,” he said as Karissa crawled through a maze of chairs with a friend at the banquet Monday.

Orr said he and other mentors visit county jails, like in Kennebec County, where there is a designated bloc for incarcerated veterans. On these visits, Orr provides contact information for support and mentorship when they get out.

Army veteran Joe Irvine, left, and Marine Corps veteran Shayne Hathaway, both of Augusta, sell raffle tickets Monday at the Veteran Mentors of Maine fundraiser in Waterville.

“It’s all about getting the conversations started and getting trust back because once you get in the system, it’s so hard to get out and you get to the point where you don’t trust anything,” Orr said.

Justice Nancy Mills, who started the state’s first Veterans Treatment Court in Kennebec County in 2011 and was in attendance Monday, said she would like to see the so-called “specialty docket” expanded to each county where there is already a Drug Treatment Court. Those counties include York, Androscoggin, Penobscot, Hancock and Washington, in addition to Kennebec and Cumberland, Mills said.

“They have everything in place already — dedicated time, a judge, a DA, a case manager, a defense lawyer, a probation officer — for the Drug Treatment Court,” Mills said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s already there.”

Nationally, the Veterans Treatment Court has an 80% success rate, according to the court official. While Maine does not have state-specific data at this point, an audit will be completed next year to provide that data, the individual added.

As part of Monday’s pig roast and banquet, U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon addressed the crowd at the Elks center.

King, who sits on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, recalled working with the late Republican senator John McCain, whom he called “one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met” and the “epitome of the patriotic soldier.”

King added that while it is difficult to amend the constitution and pass laws in Washington right now, “poking the VA” is something he can do. He thanked veterans in the audience for their service and encouraged them to speak up about issues they are facing so that he can help.

Gideon shared a similar message, pointing those in the audience to various state programs that provide financial, medical and housing aid to veterans.

King also celebrated last year’s Veterans Day holiday in the Waterville area, giving a speech to Messalonskee Middle School students at the Oakland-based district’s performing arts center.

 

 

 

 

 

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