by Lisa Moody Breslin
photography by Amy McIntyre Devilbiss
On an unusually cool summer day, Terry Gendron welcomed a Vietnam veteran into his office. The gentleman was a recent retiree who realized he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) only after he had stopped working.
Gendron had filed paperwork in February and the veteran had already started to receive benefits. Without Gendron’s assistance, it could have taken a year or two longer for the benefits to arrive.
As the American Legion’s Department Service Officer, Gendron is the bridge to assistance for countless veterans.
Since April 2013, Gendron has worked from his “home office” in Harrisburg and traveled to eight other outreaches in central and southern Pennsylvania. State representatives’ offices serve as Gendron’s hubs.
The Tuesday that Gendron met with the Vietnam veteran, Rep. Kate Klunk’s Hanover office was his office too.
“Everyone wins. The veterans don’t have to travel; the representative wins because constituents roll into the office and we win because we are out in the local communities,” said Gendron.
Gendron estimates that he averages 20 appointments per week. His outreach expands when he factors in the phone calls, emails and other forms of communication with veterans and their families.
“It is incredibly rewarding to connect with great people,” Gendron said. “There are more services and resources available to veterans and their families. This is a great job to have. It is my opportunity to give back. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
A self-proclaimed army brat (“Mom and dad wore combat boots.”), Gendron served 22 years in the military as well. He went into the army as a private and retired as a lieutenant. During his tenure he was in infantry and logistics.
His family’s devotion to the army and his time served contribute to his reputation as the officer who connects quickly and sincerely with the people he assists.
Much of his work is his tribute not only to people whom he considers to be the ultimate givers, but also to his brother, Marty, who at the age of 63, passed away due in part to his time served in Vietnam.
Within the last two years technology has enabled Gendron to connect more people more quickly.
“In the past our assistance was more limited, but now technology connects us into the VA systems and we can see all files, claims and actions. We can see veterans’ whole history and fix problems much better,” Gendron said.
Thanks to Gendron, Veterans injured during service are bridged to compensation they might not have known they could have.
Older veterans are bridged to pensions.
Younger veterans who have recently returned from service know they have a safety net, a knowing community that is thankful.
Even surviving spouses are bridged to services and funds they didn’t know were available until they met with Gendron.
“There is a lot of VA rumors. There have been a lot of positive changes and there is a lot of new information about health care,” Gendron explained. “Every veteran or surviving spouse should meet with a veteran service officer. During even one conversation, they can sort through a great deal of information to truths about what is available to them.”
“We take burden off veterans’ shoulders,” he added. “If you don’t know the rules it is hard to play the game. Service officers have the skills and know the networks to bring in help..”
Gendron said he hopes to connect veterans and their families to resources for many, many more years. “There is nothing more rewarding than changing the quality of life of veterans as they make their way back.”
A thankful Giver Salute to you, Terry Gendron.