OWEGO, NY – In the weeks leading up to Veterans Day, NewsChannel 34 is hearing directly from some of the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces.
NewsChannel 34’s James Atherlay continues our Veteran Voices series with a former Navy vet, who transformed his Veteran’s Agency into the ultimate support entity for other vets.
Michael Middaugh is the Director of the Tioga County Veterans Service Agency in Owego.
The office helps veterans access the benefits they have earned, and connect with services available in the community.
Middaugh has experience in the United States military that allows him to offer wisdom and advice to other veterans looking for help.
“There’s the pressures that, at any moment, you can be bombed, you could be shot at, you could be killed, you could be blown up. You’re constantly on a heightened state of alert. It’s that ever-present feeling of danger,” says Middaugh.
The Candor native served in the Navy Reserves from 1990 to 1998, which included tours during Desert Storm.
He retired in 2006 after being deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11.
He says having that experience helps him understand the problems other veterans have.
“It was a natural fit for me. As a veteran, I understand veterans, I understand the issues, I understand the transitional issues that all of our veterans face today,” says Middaugh.
The former Navy veteran says he himself dealt with PTSD after Desert Storm.
He says he went to some of his friends after the war to see what they were doing.
He says they referred him to the local VA.
“We teach them to go to war, but we don’t prepare them to come home. We live in the instant age. You’re here one moment. Several hours later, you’re on the battlefield. You’re done on the battlefield, boom, you’re back home, back with your family, back in civilian life, and there’s no chance to decompress,” says Middaugh.
There are traumas that veterans have to deal with when returning home. Many struggle with significant loss.
After all, when you are on the warfront for extended periods of time, Middaugh says the people you’re with become family, and losing them can be too much.
“For some veterans, it’s not so much about the trauma they incur personally themselves, but they have what’s called Survivor’s Guilt. They survived. The other people in their company or platoon didn’t,” says Middaugh.
The former Petty Officer had to fight for his benefits for a little while, but eventually got what he had earned.
When he joined up with the Veterans Service Agency, his position was part-time only, and he knew he had to change its perception.
He worked hard to make it into a full-time operation because he could see the need was there.
“If they need services, we’re going to provide those services. We’re going to find that help that they need. My personal goal is that it shouldn’t cost them anything. They went and served, and they went and sacrificed. When they come home, they shouldn’t have to scratch, claw, and plead to get help,” says Middaugh.
Middaugh says taking this new job and molding it to match his vision has been extremely fulfilling.
He says he has finally found his calling.
Middaugh says he would be glad to help any veterans in or around Tioga County.
He says veterans should call 687-8228 to receive advice or a referral to a closer agency.
A half hour Veteran Voices special, with Middaugh’s story and others, will air locally on WIVT NewsChannel 34 on Sunday November 8th at 1 P-M and Wednesday November 11th, which is Veterans Day, at 5 PM.