Sargent Jack Sterns honors Mainers who gave their lives for the country at a dedication ceremony. Photo by Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

July 8th, 2009

Governor John Baldacci and the Maine Legislature are calling on President Obama and Congress to adopt recommendations to increase medical standards, review vaccination protocols and provide better preventive treatment for members of the Maine National Guard.

The Legislature passed a joint resolution calling on Congress to carry out these and other recommendations made by the Commission to Protect the Lives and Health of Members of the Maine National Guard.

“I hopeful that Congress and the President will accept these recommendations,” said Maine’s adjunct National Guard General Libby. “A part of the commission’s mission is to see these changes implemented at the national level.”

The Commission was established in 2007 by a Governor’s bill, which was sponsored by Speaker Glenn Cummings and received unanimous support in the State Legislature. The legislation was born out of the advocacy of Barbara Damon-Day, the mother of Patrick Damon.

On June 15, 2006, news of the sudden death of Captain Damon reached the State House where he had been a long time legislative staffer. The initial Army reports attributed Captain Damon’s death to a sudden heart attack, despite his having no previously known heart conditions or family history of heart troubles. An anthrax vaccine became a possible answer to the mystery.

“My son was a healthy individual, the reports didn’t add up,” said Damon-Day. “I needed to do something.”

Since then, Damon’s mother became a tireless advocate to improve the safety, health and welfare of National Guard members in Maine, and the nation. Armed with her mission Damon-Day has been to Washington D.C. advocating, listened to hours of testimony on the commission, and continues fighting for veteran’s healthcare rights.

Governor Baldacci included a cover letter to each document being sent to Washington, D.C., urging consideration of federal action to implement the recommendations.
“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to our brave soldiers who have answered our nation’s call,” said the Governor. “All too often, our soldiers have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Many others have returned home, but with deep physical or psychological wounds. The State of Maine joins our federal government in seeking to provide the best care possible to these heroes.”

Damon-Day has found some solace with her actions.

“I’m more at peace, now that I’m doing something I hope makes a difference. I’m very pleased that this commission has made some real accomplishments that have led to policy changes in Maine,” said Damon-Day. “The Commission has allowed veterans and military families an opportunity to give us feed back. And we have acted on that information. If I had a wish, it would be to encourage more service members to come forward to the Commission. We need to hear more of their stories; they are where it all begins. They can remain anonymous. This commission is here for them, and their families, forever.”

The Commission will continue to meet and provide a forum for veterans and their family members.

Rep. Alexander Cornell du Houx praised the commission’s recommendations and called on the Congress to adopt their recommendations. Cornell du Houx, an Iraq War Veteran, speaking on the House floor, praised the commission, “for their tireless work to provide the best care possible for our service members. We pass this joint resolution to raise the federal standards, not just for past wars, but for the conflicts of today.”

Recommendations being sent to Washington, D.C., include increasing efforts to diagnosis and treat illnesses; making all anthrax vaccine safety data available to independent researchers; establishing a seamless electronic medical records system between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs; and granting service members the benefit of a doubt when they file a valid disability claim for service-connected injuries or illnesses.

“Our country has a moral obligation to make sure we take care of those we send into harm’s way – not only when they are in combat, but also when they come home,” said the Governor.

“I applaud Barbara for all of her hard work in creating and heading up this commission. This report would not have been possible without her outstanding leadership,” said Sen. President Elizabeth Mitchell. “Now we need the President and Congress to act.”

Since its creation in 2007, the commission has provided a single source of health-related information for Maine veterans on the Maine CDC website, improved the ‘Over 40 Physical Exam’ to include cardiovascular screening prior to deployment, increase traumatic brain injury screenings, improved medical record handling, and established a case review board for non-combat deaths and disabilities.