New Veterans Service Officer Settles Into The Job
Aug 25, 2014 05:25PM ● Published by Bill Gilman
Tewksbury Veterans Services Officer Lisa Downey.
When Lisa Downey enlisted in the Air Force at age 17, she envisioned a career of service to her country and protecting the "Six" of her her fellow servicepersons.
Her flight path was a bit circuitous but she is on course now to fulfill those ambitions.
Downey was hired last month to serve as Tewksbury's Veterans Service Officer. After 13 years in the private sector, Downey said she is anxious to help fellow veterans in the same manner she has been helped in the years since leaving the Air Force.
"As a veteran, I didn't even know what my benefits were when I got home," she said. "It's important for these men and women and their families to know all the programs and benefits that are available to them."
Downey succeeds Jim Williams, who held the position of Veterans Agent for more than a decade. Williams not only provided assistance to Downey as a local veteran. He is also partially responsible for her career change.
"I came in to talk to Jim earlier this year and he mentioned he was retiring and he suggested I apply for the job," said Downey, who lives in town with her 14-year-old daughter.
She did just that and following screening and interview process, she was offered the job by Town Manager Jim Montuori.
"(Downey) has a great presence," said Montuori. "She has a great deal of compassion and caring in helping veterans."
While Downey did not come to the job with experience in the area of Veterans Affairs, Montuori felt she had the skills and the raw ability to serve Tewksbury's veterans well.
"She has excellent computer skills and that is a big help. And I really felt she would be a fast learner," he said.
With that in mind, Montuori connected Downey with Wilmington Veterans Agent Lou Cimaglia, considered one of the best at his job in the country. Over her first month on the job, Cimaglia has served as a mentor for Downey, helping her learn the finer points of dealing with state and federal agencies.
"(Cimaglia) has been phenomenal," said Downey. "He knows the system inside and out and genuinely cares for all the people."
During the renovation of Town Hall, Downey's Veterans Services office will continue to be located in the Tewksbury Senior Center on Chandler Street. That has provided Downey the chance to connect with another valuable resource, new Senior Center Director Ashley Stuart. In addition to her other skills, Stuart is also a licensed social worker, which comes in handy when trying to serve the needs of older veterans and vets suffering from physical or psychological injuries.
That Downey would end up in a career working with the men and women of the military is no surprise. Her father served 27 years in the Air Force. Her grandfather served in the military as well. And her sister is a 17-year Air Force veteran and is serving as a lieutenant colonel at the Pentagon.
So at an age when many girls are dreaming of unicorns and faeries, eight-year-old Lisa Downey was dreaming of F-15's.
"I knew from the time I was in second grade I was going in the Air Force," she said, with a wide grin. "In high school I didn't even bother taking the SAT's. I went into the recruiter's office when I was 17, my dad signed the form, and as soon as I graduated I entered the Air Force. It was one of the best decisions I ever made."
Downey said she had every intention of making the Air Force her career, just as her father and sister had. But life set her on a different path and within a year after the birth of her daughter, she stepped out of a world she loved.
"They day I left the Air Force was two days before the 9/11 attacks," she said. "I watched it on TV like everyone else."
As a single mother, Downey was never re-called to active service as the "War on Terror" picked up steam. But her heart remained with the armed services, especially the Air Force, and she looked for ways she could support their efforts.
Thirteen years later, Downey finds herself in a job that has proven to be especially critical in a world of 21st Century warfare. She helps dozens of Tewksbury veterans, widows and children take full advantage of the benefits they have coming to them. From the "Welcome Home" bonus to medical and psychological care to housing, to free education and job placement and countless other opportunities in between.
"I just want to help in any way I can," she said.
Local veterans are learning what Lisa Downey's comrades knew 13 years ago -- she's got their "Six."
Are you a veteran or the family member of a veteran and you're not sure if you may be entitled to benefits, call Lisa Downey at 978-640-4485 or reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org