LEWISTON — A veteran who helped convince the Department of Veterans Affairs to open a clinic to Lewiston is serving again.

Jerry DeWitt, a 64-year-old nurse and counselor from Lewiston, is becoming a VISTA volunteer.

His mission will be to find new ways of connecting veterans with services that already exist in the local area, particularly for ex-service members with mental health problems.

“We’re trying to develop comprehensive resources for veterans,” DeWitt said. “A lot of it is coordination.”

He plans to spend part of his time at Tri-County Mental Health in Lewiston. Room is also being found at the Vet Center in Lewiston. But he is unlikely to be bound to either spot.

DeWitt’s exact duties are still being worked out, but Tri-County Mental Health leaders hope the new volunteer will affect its operations across Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

 “We reach into every corner of western Maine,” said Tina Clark, the agency’s director of Development and Community Relations. “Veterans are presenting a new level of need.”

DeWitt knows the need.

He began working to bring a VA community-based outpatient clinic to Lewiston more than 10 years ago. He wasn’t alone. Several other local veterans and Rep. Michael Michaud championed the project, now under construction near Exit 80 of the Maine Turnpike in Lewiston.

Despite his age, in 2008 DeWitt served for about six months in Iraq with the American Red Cross. He has also worked on a project aimed at making Maine’s courts more sensitive to veterans.

In lots of cases, helping veterans must begin with finding out who the veterans are and identifying the need.

For groups such as Tri-County Mental Health, it means asking the question, “Are you a veteran?”

On an even more basic level, it means convincing some people that they are veterans. Some people think they didn’t serve long enough or in the wrong situation, DeWitt said.

The discussion builds a foundation needed to understand why someone may be showing signs of trauma and what treatment is available, he said.

The confusion spreads to the caregivers. Besides organizations like Tri-County and the Vet Center, many private counselors are also helping veterans work through problems.

“We need to look at educating people at every level,” he said.

DeWitt figures he will make much less money than he earned as a nurse, but the chance to help veterans took priority. He plans to begin work in mid-August, following VISTA orientation in Philadelphia.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed specifically to fight poverty. It was founded as Volunteers in Service to America in 1965 and incorporated into AmeriCorps’ programs in 1993.

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