When it comes to tireless, tenacious advocacy for veterans, Mike "Mad Dog" Sater more than lived up to his nickname.
"I just have to say he was one of the best in the country at working with veterans to help them go through that nightmare of filing [Veterans Administration] paperwork," said Dave Brengle, quartermaster at the Westminster Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 467, where Sater was a member. "He was persistent and he was not very forgiving toward people that were incompetent at higher levels in the VA when things didn't go through to well."
Sater died Saturday at York Hospital from injuries related to a June 28 motorcycle crash. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and daughters Holly and Heather as well as their children, according to his obituary.
"He worked tirelessly on behalf of all veterans and we are really going to miss him here at the post," Brengle said. "We're just going to miss him real bad."
The American Legion Post 200, Purple Heart Chapter 577 and the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 22 also claimed Sater as a member. An Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, he was also serving as the Adjutant for the Disabled American Veterans Department of Maryland at the time of his death and was a member of the National Order of the Trench Rats, a DAV recognized auxiliary society with roots reaching back to World War I. Sater was wounded during his tour in Vietnam.
Sater was also a force in securing some of Carroll's veterans support services, such as the Carroll County Veterans Shuttle and the Veterans Advisory Council, according to Frank Valenti, director of the Department of Social Services and a member of the council.
"He was the big bang, if I can use that analogy," he said. "He was working on his own and once we hooked up, it was like we took it to the next level."
Valenti was first contacted by Sater in 2010 and they struck up a series of lunchtime conversations about the needs of veterans in the county. Issues of particular concern were veteran health care and transportation needs.
"Having to spend and hour and a half in a car to go to a VA hospital was preventing a lot of vets from getting the care their needed," Valenti said. "We talked to Carroll Area Transit System and [Carroll County Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5] and came up with the idea of a shuttle."
Howard remembers well his first meeting with Sater.
"When the issue of veterans transportation came up at a commission on aging meeting, I reached out to a couple of folks and Frank Valenti at Department of Social Services said he had someone I really needed to meet," he said. "He brought Mike to my office and from the very first meeting it was clear that Mike was focused on what the vets needed and — I guess a certain amount of impatience on things that were taking way too long to get accomplished."
"Mike had this very interesting combination of very strong focus and he was also a tough guy and he got your attention very quickly," Howard said. "Our most recent discussion was about the possible transition of service providers for the veterans shuttle — this was about two weeks ago — and he said something to the effect of, 'I know you helped us get this set up,' and 'don't mess this up now.'"
Sater was also instrumental in helping Carroll become the first county in Maryland to have its own Veterans Services Officers — Jeff Collins and Jim Hillman at the Veteran Services Program of Carroll Countywho help veterans understand the benefits they are due and how to handle the paperwork necessary to claim them.
Valenti was still having those regular and focused conversations with Sater right up until his accident.
"We had lunch at least once a week, shoot the [breeze], harass each other and tell war stories," Valenti said. "He was one of those rare people, a man of character that genuinely cared for vets and traveled all over the state, and all over the country, espousing the need for services for vets and what we could do for vets."
The affect Sater had on the veterans community extended far beyond Carroll County. He cultivated a network of people who could help veterans in Carroll, but he also was willing to work to help veterans throughout the state with a single minded purpose, according to Ed Chow, former Secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Mike is probably one of the stalwarts of the Maryland veteran community," Chow said. "He was a person you could always count on to be standing ready to help any vet and their respective families. He was the type of person that would go out of his way, at his own expense, to help."
When Chow was appointed in 2009, he had to take meeting after meeting to get up to speed in the position. He said Sater kept showing up at all those meetings with remarkable consistency.
"When certain people start popping up at different meetings, you start to think, 'This is a person perhaps of substance.' You start digging into it and you realize, 'Oh my gosh, this is real,'" Chow said. "He's one of those guys that you come across once in a lifetime. He just sits there and all he is thinking about is vets and he doesn't look for accolades like some people; he's just the guy that gets there and does it."
In Sater, Chow said he found a collaborative partner and helped make training available for Carroll County's Veterans Services Officers that Sater wanted in the county. Sater, meanwhile, helped invigorate a commission for Chow that needed some inspiration.
"He was put on the military monuments commission and the minute he got there, he said he wanted to be part of one sub-committee and said, 'OK, this is what we are going to do'" Chow said. "He wasn't hung up on titles or on honors. All he cared about, and, was passionate about, was helping veterans."
Sater did have another passion, according to Valenti: Riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
"He loved his motorcycles and he would ride them all the time," Valenti said. "He and his wife had a motorcycle and they would ride all over the country, although she liked to fly [to a location] then meet him."
On June 28, Sater was involved in an accident while riding his motorcycle near Cumberland Township, in Pennsylvania, and was taken to York Hospital. The York County Coroner's Office confirmed that he died on Saturday, July 11 due to complications from injuries sustained in the crash.
It's a loss Valenti feels personally, and a loss he knows will echo through the veterans community in which Sater was so active a member. His encyclopedic knowledge of the VA system, his ability to speak from personal experience on that path, will be irreplaceable, Valenti said.
"He was wounded in Vietnam and went through the whole thing. He lived it, so he could walk into a room and talk to vets; there was no B.S., he knew what he was talking about," Valenti said. "He steeped himself in knowledge of the organizations and structure. He would know who to call, what lever to pull and how much pressure to apply. He will be a loss."
There was one thing that Sater hoped to accomplish in Carroll that will now have to be left to those that remain: The creation of a VA medical clinic in Carroll County, so veterans can get care without traveling an hour each way. Howard has said progress toward this goal is slow but it remains an important goal.
"Mike's vision as really three things. He wanted the shuttle services, he wanted veterans services office ... and he wanted veterans medical services provided in the county," Howard said. "We've gotten two of the three done and ... he made clear to all of us, we need to keep pushing to get those medical services in the country. I think Mike has filled us all with a sense of urgency."
More than the organizations he helped and services he helped create, it may be that sense of urgency and his penetrating focus on helping others that may be Sater's greatest legacy, according to Valenti.
Sater's family will receive visitors from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at Eline Funeral Home, 934 S. Main Street, Hampstead. Service will be at 10 a.m., Wednesday at Eline Funeral Home. Contributions to the Disabled American Veterans at 101 N. Gay St., Baltimore should be made in lieu of flowers.