Joe’s Journal

An old sailor lends a hand

Posted:  Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - 7:00am

Dave Patch is an old sailor whose naval career began at Annapolis. After graduation, he opted to fly jets until a problem with his inner ear grounded him.

Then he went to sea, where he first served on a minesweeper that spent much of its time in port nursing a bum power plant.

He jumped to destroyer escorts and the last of the non-guided missile destroyers that provided gunfire to shore-based Army and Marine units in Vietnam. There he was sent ashore to help direct the Navy’s big guns. He quickly found out that the requirements for Marines and soldiers in a combat zone did not include spit and polish.

After Vietnam, he served in the Pentagon helping with Navy research and development programs. He says he was in charge of all the ships the Navy didn’t want.

Retiring as a full commander, he jumped around a series of start-up companies that worked on components that went into, you guessed it, Navy ships.

He and his family moved to Boothbay where his dad and mom lived. His job was to help them in their final years. It may have been his toughest and most rewarding assignment.

Along the way, someone asked him if he was involved with the Veterans Administration.

“I always had good private health insurance and later Medicaid. I had always had a problem with my ears and usually ignored it, but a friend suggested I might be eligible for hearing aids through the VA.

Patch checked and was surprised that he qualified for hearing aids and, to his surprise, his problem qualified him for a small disability pension.

To make a long story short, he got involved with veterans issues and began helping vets navigate the rocks and shoals of the VA bureaucracy.

Along the way, he was persuaded by Southport’s Jim Singer to join the Boothbay chapter of the American Legion.

“I agreed to join because I wanted a key to their hall so I could meet with veterans in private,” he said.

Initially, he wanted to work with the younger vets but found many of them were leery of the government.

Then a friend from church suggested he look in on an elderly East Boothbay couple who were having problems with the electrical system in their home.

When he visited them, he quickly realized the real problem was the home was a mess and they needed to go into assisted living facilities. He helped them get settled into new digs.

After spending time with them and other elderly vets, he signed up with the VA at Togus for a course in veterans assistance. That course morphed into volunteer jobs with several regional and state vets advocacy groups.

“A big problem for vets is that they just don’t know how to take their problems to the right person and I found I am able to do that,” he said. One of his specialties is helping vets apply for benefits by helping them find long lost paperwork.

“Dave is great. He is a tireless supporter of Maine veterans,” said David Richmond, the deputy director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services.

Sometimes, he is able to help vets by just asking others for assistance.

Working with legislative committees he helped convince lawmakers to cut red tape to let qualified vets sidestep some state licensure requirements.

Camp and athletic programs for vets are a special cause for Patch. He is involved with Camp Kieve-Wavus on Damariscotta Lake where vets and their families can enjoy the outdoors and find a place to relax.

In recent months, Patch has volunteered to help World War II vets sign up for the Honor Flight Program bringing them to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials there.

“Many of the older vets are reluctant to go on the trip. Some have mobility and health issues and are embarrassed by them.

“Our message is this. We don’t care. We are there to help them. Many are in wheelchairs and take tons of pills. We can help them and we do. Two Boothbay vets, George Whitten and Robbie Robinson, joined Patch on recent Honor flights.

If you get the idea he is busy, you are right. He says he sits down with his wife each month to pencil in family time.

“When I was working, I had time to mow the grass and shovel snow. Now I am so busy I have to hire someone to do my household chores.”

If you know a vet who could use a friend to help them with health and benefit issues, you can call Patch at 751-5672. He would be glad to help.