Service officers salute veterans

POULSBO — Veterans Day was a holiday set aside 50 years ago this month to honor the lives of veterans of all eras and all branches of the military.

But at one tiny office in the Poulsbo Armory, the spirit of Veterans Day is celebrated every week. American Legion Post 245 Service Officer Birger Sather and a small but dedicated group of volunteers spend Thursday mornings at the Armory helping veterans, their widows and their dependents with Veterans Administration claims and other needs. The service is free and open to all veterans, regardless of their era or branch.

“We’re all in for the same reason, to serve our country. We’re all in it together,” Sather said.

Since opening in January 2003, an estimated 200 or more veterans, widows or dependents have been assisted with VA claims at the American Legion Office. Legion member and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4992 Commander John Watte said his group has also seen an influx of veterans seeking help. Watte explained that since the closure of the Washington State Veterans Affairs office in Bremerton earlier this year, assisting veterans has fallen on the shoulders of volunteers.

“Consequently, there are no other places to go for things like flags for burials or if a wife needs her husband’s discharge papers,” Watte explained.

Sather, a Korean War era army veteran and also a member of VFW Post 4992 said every American Legion post has a service officer position but that Post 245 is the only one in the area with office hours. He said he’s had fellow veterans come from as far away as Port Townsend, Port Angeles and even Seattle to seek his help.

“If you’ve been in the military and get into a service organization like the American Legion or the VFW, you see situations where people need assistance and it’s just something I feel we can do to assist somebody who really needs it,” he commented.

Sather is typically joined by his wife Barbara, who was recently trained as a service officer, and Legion member Ken Nyberg, a Korean War era army veteran. Nyberg said he’s been honored to serve in the volunteer position and to be trained by Sather.

“He’s got a wonderful touch with veterans and we see all kinds here,” Nyberg said. “Some of the stories are really heart-rending.”

“You have to get somebody who has the time, the interest and the will and there are not that many of them around,” Watte commented on the position of service officer.

The most frequent requests the office gets are for replacement documents or medals and health benefits. Many veterans do not realize health problems they are having today may be combat-related.

“Some of these disabilities don’t show up for years, especially Agent Orange and post traumatic stress disorder,” Nyberg explained. “We may see people who got out of the service 20 years ago and all of a sudden they have a very real disability they need help with.”

“That’s why we encourage all veterans to get into the VA Health Care system whether they have a problems or not,” added Barbara Sather. “Then when they need assistance, we’re ready to roll.”

For Sather and Nyberg, Veterans Day is usually a time of remembering their days in uniform. For Nyberg, his tour was two years active and 38 in the reserves. He said his son always calls him on veterans day and this particular day, he’ll be the guest speaker at a retirement center.

“I’m having difficulty framing a sense of mixed emotions,” Nyberg said of the speech he’ll be giving. “There’s some good memories and I lost some people that I served with and I think of them on Veterans Day, too.”

For Sather, military service was about two years active, six in the reserves. He said he and Barbara plan to attend Veterans Day activities in Silverdale. He said he’ll also spend some of the day thinking about those who served and those who are still serving.

“It’s a day that we have our flag out and just sort of a day of reminiscence and honor different veterans groups,” Sather said.

Then, two days later, they’ll be quietly celebrating the spirit of Veterans Day all over again at their tiny office at the Poulsbo Armory.

To reach the Kitsap County Veterans Coalition call (360) 698-7040 or (360) 638-2610. For more information about the American Legion Post 245 Veterans Service Office, call Birger Sather at (360) 638-2610. For more information about services offered by the VFW 4992, call Post Commander John Watte at (360) 779-5628.


Veterans Assistance Offices are available in Kitsap County:

•10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays at 4970 Auto Way in Bremerton

•11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays at the Veterans of the Foreign Wars Hall, 190 Dora in Bremerton

•10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays at the American Legion Post 245 Armory, 19133 Jensen Way in Poulsbo

•10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays 532 5th Street in Poulsbo

Some of the benefits service officers can help with include:

•Kitsap County veterans fund assistance

•Veterans death benefits for widows

•Dependency and indemnity compensation matter for widows

•Military record questions or corrections

•Cold War certificate applications

•Replacement of lost service medals

•10-10 easy registration for VA health care

•Disability compensation and pension claims and claimant’s representative authorization forms

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