SHIRLEY — Massachusetts law requires every municipality in the commonwealth to have a veterans agent. The primary qualifications for the job are military service and an honorable discharge.
“You have to be a veteran,” said Dwight “Mike” Detillion, who has been the veterans agent in town for three years.
The same criteria apply to those seeking assistance from the Department of Veterans’ Services, a state agency that Detillion described as public assistance for veterans and their families.
The agent helps veterans in need get services they require, from emergency financial aid to housing to education. He can also provide links to the Veterans Administration if the veteran needs medical care.
Detillion, who was in the Army for three years and served in Vietnam, said he’s a former longtime high-tech worker who’s now self-employed and busy doing home improvements.
Married for 38 years, he has two grown daughters and five grandchildren, all of whom live in town. He goes to the kids’ baseball games.
“It’s wonderful,” he said.
Detillion has an active extracurricular schedule. He’s been on the town ambulance crew for 24 years and has served as ambulance director for 12 years.
Now, he’s the veterans agent, too. Former agent Bernard Sweeney recruited him for the job.
Sweeney provided a lot of on-the-job training, Detillion said. Beyond that, a certificate on the wall shows he’s completed Massachusetts Veterans Service Officers Training. There are annual meetings, publications and numbers to call, but mostly, he said he’s on his own.
The job pays $5,000 per year, which he said might seem like a lot since his office is only open once a week. But there’s a lot more to the job. Paperwork, for one thing, and tons of it.
Detillion said he often goes to veterans’ homes, particularly older veterans, to help them sort through paperwork of their own and apply for assistance.
He also gets calls from veterans’ wives, he said.
“There’s been a death, and she wants her husband buried in a military cemetery,” he said.
Detillion can help. There are two sites in Massachusetts. One is on Cape Cod, and the other is in Winchendon. The Devens cemetery is for retirees. In such instances, the lot and burial are free of charge, he said.
If the veteran needs something from the federal Veterans Administration, “we’ll be the interface,” he said. “We can point in the right direction.”
Sometimes the problem is drug or alcohol abuse. Homelessness isn’t much of an issue in Shirley, he said, but whatever needs the veteran or dependent or widowed spouse wants help with, he or she must provide certain documents, including proof that Shirley is their permanent residence and discharge papers.
Detillion holds open office hours Tuesdays, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., in a small back room connected to the town clerk’s office. He has a desk, a bulletin board, wide windows and shares the space with neatly stacked boxes and the town’s old wooden ballot counter. Informal, clean and cozy.
He said the agent’s office is a “short-term stop” for veterans who need temporary help, he said.
“My responsibility is to help them get on their feet, and they appreciate it,” he said. “It’s good work.”
For an appointment call the Town Offices at (978) 425-2600, wait for the prompts, and leave a message. You can also stop in.