Thomas D’Amore said he wasn’t even aware that he was eligible for more benefits from his Navy service connected disabilities until he met another fellow serviceman. He’d served in the U.S. Navy from 1972 until 1974 and since that time he suffered from the condition known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, PTSD is a mental health problem that occurs after a person goes through a traumatic event like in war and was first officially added as a diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.
D’Amore, of Rocky Point, prided himself on helping fellow veterans but he needed help himself navigating the red tape of the Veterans Affairs office. After three years of effort, D’Amore went to the office of Congressman Tim Bishop, D- Southampton, seeking help with his VA benefits. Soon after, D’Amore received notice that the service-connected disability that he’d been suffering from for more than three decades was being reconsidered for increased compensation. His service related disability was increased from 30 to 70 percent and he was given a retroactive award of $39,000 as well an increase in his monthly benefits.
“Money he earned with his well being,” Bishop said at an award ceremony honoring D’Amore and two other veterans that the Congressman helped to get service connected benefit increases.
By increasing the percentage, the VA acknowledges that his illness is more connected to trauma received when he served in the Navy.
D’Amore sat with fellow veteran Frank Peters, of Holbrook, who suffered through throat cancer and heart disease after exposure to Agent Orange while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1967. Peters was awarded $36,000 in retroactive pay and saw his monthly benefits increase after he went to Bishop’s office seeking help navigating the VA. His compensation was increased to 100 percent after the VA reviewed his case.
Chris Akel, of Patchogue, couldn't make it to the ceremony. He went to Bishop’s office to get help from the VA for his diabetes and nerve damage after exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam when he served from 1968 until 1970. Akel was given back pay in the amount of $22,000. His monthly disability payment was also increased as a result of having his service-connected disability increased to 90 percent.
The ceremony honoring all three veterans was held at the Elks Lodge on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station.
“I can’t think of an organization that is more active and more supportive of our nation’s veterans,” Bishop said of the Elks.
After the ceremony the Congressman said that veterans are able to find his office to seek help in a variety of ways. One is through word of mouth, a fact he’s particularly proud of because he feels the work his office does is being recognized by local veterans. Another is through referrals from the Suffolk County VA office, local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts. Others just walk in seeking help from their representative.
He said that his senior congressional aide, Erin D’Eletto is a “miracle worker” when it comes to working with veteran and military affairs, which is all she does.
He implored anyone who knows of veterans having difficulty for any reason to call his office.
“The VA operation in my office stacks up against any office,” he said calling it the most rewarding and impactful work they do.
D’Amore, said that he was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1974 for injuries suffered during active duty. As a result of his service and experiences he said he likes to give back to the community.
“I’ve been helping veterans all my life,” said the married father of two “beautiful kids” in Rocky Point.
Christopher Weghorst - a veteran with ten years of active duty service between a stint in the Army and then the National Guard - found himself homeless with his wife and six children two years ago. He said that D’Amore helped him get back on his feet.
“He’s an amazing person,” Weghorst said. “He’s all heart.”
When the Weghorsts were living in a hotel back in 2010, D’Amore introduced them to the Elks who then got together a carload of gifts for the family for Christmas.
Weghorst said he’s living in Sayville now but it was D’Amore’s help that got him in a better place.
“Tommy helped me regain hope,” he said. “He’s an amazing guy.”