The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 10, 2006


Carlisle's Veterans' Agent serves veterans of all wars

Kenneth Buffum reviews his paperwork in Carlisle Town Hall. (Photo by Ellen Miller)
Unless Carlisleans were active in the military or are dependents of a veteran, they may be unaware that the town has a Veterans' Agent. He is Kenneth Buffum of Billerica, a former World War II Navy man, who has served as Carlisle's agent and Billerica's Director of Veterans' Services for 28 years. Since he has no office in Carlisle, we met at Town Hall where he is a familiar figure to town employees. We passed the Town Clerk's office and Buffum's eyes lit up as he remembered Sarah Andreassen, Carlisle's late Town Clerk. "Sarah was instrumental in getting me this job," he recalled. She knew about his work in Billerica, had met him at the Bedford Veterans Administration hospital, and suggested that he be named Carlisle's Veterans' Agent.

Asked to describe his job, Buffum said, "I am the federal agent for veterans and their families. I file applications for veterans with service-connected disabilities and for survivors of veterans who died after active service. Disabilities can range from zero to 100% disability." Buffum explained that a veteran's pension expires when he dies, and his widow must file independently to receive his benefits, unless a 100% disability has been claimed. In that case, the pension passes directly to the widow.

In Massachusetts, every town with a population of 12,000 or more has a full-time director of Veterans' Services, or, said Buffum, "they can form a district, like Burlington and Bedford have done. Concord, Sudbury, Tewksbury, Chelmsford and Westford have their own full-time person."

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has the most comprehensive veterans' services program of any state in the nation, according to one town's web site. In addition to those benefits provided by the Veterans Administration, the Veterans' Agent helps veterans and their families handle applications for financial and medical assistance, arranges transportation to V.A. facilities, visits homebound veterans and those in hospitals and nursing homes, provides housing assistance and advises veterans of the resources of the community and benefit entitlements.

Buffum described one of the recent entitlement programs — the "Welcome Home" Bonus for Veterans was signed into law by Governor Romney in February 2006. It provides a tax-free cash payment to eligible U.S. service members activated since September 11, 2001 and is designed to help veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Buffum's job involves more than paperwork, however. He is helping to organize a flag-retirement ceremony at Vietnam Veterans Park in Treble Cove Park in Billerica. The traditional ceremony, in which worn and tattered American flags are laid to rest, is an Eagle Scout project of a Billerica Boy Scout. The ceremony will be held on Saturday, November 11 at 2 p.m. (Acton, too, will hold a flag retirement service at the fire station in Acton center following Veterans Day activities. Old flags are still being accepted.)

Veterans Day was Armistice Day

World War I officially ended on June 28, 1919, with the signing of the armistice, but the actual fighting between the Allies and Germany had ended on November 11, 1918. The armistice went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. November 11 became known as Armistice Day and was declared a national holiday in the United States in 1938. In 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans. Years later federal legislation moved the holiday to the last Monday in October but public sentiment for the original date persuaded Congress to restore it to its original date, where it has remained.

Veterans in Carlisle

How many veterans live in Carlisle? Buffum could not say, because "the records are incomplete." Although the town's census form includes a check-off for the category "veteran," not all veterans do check the line, he said. Buffum learns about local veterans only when they return home from military service and require assistance from federal or state programs.

In World War II, Buffum was in the Navy and served on destroyers and minesweepers. After the service, he worked for two bakery companies and for Harvard University before becoming Billerica's and Carlisle's veterans' representative. He frequently visits veterans at the Bedford V.A. hospital. He deplores the absence of public attention given to servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who have sustained serious injuries. "They're suffering from hearing loss, lost limbs and post-traumatic stress syndrome," he said. He is opposed to the war in Iraq. "We shouldn't be there," he declared, "and men are dying — for what?"

Editor's note: Kenneth Buffum can be reached at 1-978-671-0969.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito