Helping military veterans obtain their Veterans Administration benefits is one way Doris Kent honors the memory of her son, U.S. Army Spc. Jonathan Santos, who in 2004 was the first Whatcom County resident killed in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Santos, 22, a graduate of Sehome High, was a linguist with the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, specializing in Arabic languages. He died in the field when his vehicle hit a roadside explosive.
“It helps me to heal,” Kent said. “I still miss Jonathan, even a decade later. It propels me to take that grief and loss and move forward. My greatest fear is that Jonathan will be forgotten. We have so many vets who are in need, I want to always keep them in the forefront.”
Kent described her son as a kind young man, an avid reader who wanted to study sociology after serving his country.
For four years, Kent has volunteered for the Vietnam Veterans of America as a veterans service officer, where she assists veterans with paperwork they need for service-related disability assistance. She also works part time at the Opportunity Council, helping veterans with housing and to receive VA and other government benefits.
She also works with widows and surviving family members, counsels combat veterans, and started the nonprofit Veteran Navigators program to find veterans and help them access VA benefits.
“I have to admit that I’m motivated by something very, very different,” Kent said. “It’s a way to honor him and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s important to help them when they get home and that means us as a nation.”
Jim Pace, senior veterans services officer at the Vietnam Veterans of America in Bellingham, called Kent “a go-getter” in the way she helps veterans register for VA entitlements and assistance such as housing, job training, food assistance and disability claims.
“She listens to their needs and concerns, she knows how to work the system,” Pace said. “It’s a difficult job. That’s why she’s good at it. She’s organized and understands the complexity of the VA. She’s been a godsend.
“She realized that there was such a need among those who came home,” he said. “She’s such a great gal. I wish I could clone her.”
Donna Hall of Ferndale praised Kent for the work she did in helping Hall’s son and daughter-in-law – both Marine Corps veterans – obtain benefits they had earned in the service.
“Even with her loss, she is willing to help others in need and expects nothing in return,” Hall said. “Without her guidance, many veterans would not have the help and assistance they earned serving their country.”
Pace, who met Kent through various service-oriented functions, said “I was totally impressed with her caring in not only wanting to honor her son, but also in helping others. What do they need to get back on their feet? She’s done it.”
Kent said her savvy with VA is a result of a lifelong military background.
Her father is retired military, her brother is retired Army, and she has another son who’s a sergeant in the Army, serving in Iraq.
“I was born in a Navy hospital, and my three boys were born in military hospitals. I’ve been an ID card holder longer than some of (the clients I assist) have served.”
She admits that she was angered at first when her middle son dropped out of college to enlist.
“This is the first Christmas that I don’t have him,” she said. “I had hoped that he wouldn’t go in, but it was his calling.”