With no long-term mental health or substance abuse care available at VA facilities in ME, vets are sent hundreds of miles from home to VT, CT, & MA
WASHINGTON — Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME), and Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-01) and Jared Golden (ME-02) urged Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to address the absence of long-term mental health and substance abuse treatment care for veterans at VA facilities in Maine. VA Maine has no beds for such care.
“This lack of local mental health services presents an exceptionally difficult choice for Maine veterans who seek mental health and substance abuse treatment: either receive care far away from their family and support networks or forego evaluation and treatment out of concern for having to leave their communities,” wrote the delegation. “Togus urgently needs the ability to provide veterans with long-term care for mental health or substance abuse issues. This unacceptable situation for Maine veterans has continued for too long.”
The delegation’s letter supports a request made by VA Maine to establish a permanent unit to provide long-term beds dedicated to mental health and substance abuse treatment. VA providers are trained specifically to help veterans overcome their unique challenges, which normal health care facilities can not provide.
The Maine delegation has made improving mental health care for our state’s veterans a high priority. Last month, Golden successfully passed a provision through the House to increase the amount of funding provided for long-term mental health care beds at VA facilities as part of the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. In June, Golden pressed Dr. Richard Stone, the Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration, for a plan to address the lack of long-term mental health and substance abuse treatment services at Togus.
In April, Senator Collins hosted Secretary Wilkie in Maine to visit a veteran-owned small business, participate in the groundbreaking for a new veterans residential care facility, and tour an organization that provides housing for homeless veterans. As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Collins has worked to ensure robust funding for VA’s mental health programs, which resulted in funding for VA mental health programs in Fiscal Year 2019 at $200 million above the previously enacted level and $16 million above the amount initially requested in VA’s budget submission. Sen. Collins also pushed for policies that reinforce our nation's commitment to members of our military, veterans, and their families, such as supporting military caregivers, improving health care for veterans, and fighting to ensure continued funding for veterans homelessness programs.
Senator King has been a strong advocate for veterans issues since arriving in Washington. He has successfully advocated for the VA to fund three additional positions to better serve Maine veterans facing homelessness, mental health or substance abuse issues. In September 2018, he joined a panel featuring veterans’ healthcare experts and caregivers at the Portland Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), to highlight common suicide risk factors and warning signs for suicide, provided information about VA mental health and suicide prevention resources, and emphasized the importance of starting the conversation around veteran mental health.
Read a copy of the letter here.