Augusta, ME—U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) hosted U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie in Maine today 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. Throughout the day, Senator Collins and Secretary Wilkie met with dozens of Maine veterans and discussed ways to improve veterans services and ensure they are receiving the high-quality health care that they deserve.
“It was a pleasure to host Secretary Wilkie in Maine today to discuss our shared priority of strengthening our commitment to veterans. Each of our stops emphasized different ways of supporting those who have served, from visiting a successful business operated by a Maine veteran to participating in the groundbreaking of a state-of-the-art veterans home to touring an organization that is transforming lives by helping veterans experiencing homelessness get back on their feet,” said Senator Collins. “With the fiscal year 2020 appropriations process currently underway, I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Wilkie to ensure we are providing veterans with the resources and support they have earned through their service to our nation.”
“Our visit to Cabin in the Woods capped a productive day meeting with community and state leaders and discussing important matters for Maine’s veterans,” said Secretary Wilkie. “The work done here illustrates that we work most effectively in partnership – community, state and federal organizations collaborating to help veterans get the services they have earned.”
Senator Collins and Secretary Wilkie began by visiting Easy Day, a restaurant and bowling alley in South Portland. Easy Day is owned by Chris Tyll, a former SEAL who served four tours in Iraq before retiring from the Navy in 2009.
Following their lunch, Senator Collins and Secretary Wilkie joined the rest of the Maine Delegation and Governor Janet Mills at a groundbreaking ceremony for Maine Veterans’ Homes’ new veterans home in Augusta. The planned $91 million, 179,000+ square foot building will feature 138 private rooms for veterans and eligible family members, employ nearly 250 people, and provide the first true small-home care model in Maine. The facility will foster a home-like atmosphere, with clusters of 10-12 private rooms with private bathrooms sharing a kitchen, dining room, and den. The facility will be equipped with the latest technology and will be prepared to offer a range of treatments, from short-stay nursing and rehab to long-term dementia care. Last year, Senators Collins and Angus King (I-ME) announced a nearly $50 million grant to help fund construction of this new veterans home.
Senator Collins and Secretary Wilkie concluded their visit by touring Cabin in the Woods, a project led by Volunteers of America, Northern New England, to provide permanent housing for homeless veterans. The community of 21 cabins is situated on 11-acres at the VA Togus campus and provides convenient access to medical care and services. The organization focuses on helping veterans find employment, rebuild families, and achieve stability and independence.
Senator Collins chairs the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and she serves on both the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and Veterans Affairs and Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee. She has 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.
Following Senator Collins’ advocacy, the fiscal year (FY) 2019 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations bill that was signed into law last September included $865 million for the VA Caregiver Program. This program, which supported caregivers of post-9/11 veterans, will be expanded in the coming years to include pre-9/11 veterans and their caregivers with the enactment of the VA Mission Act, which was championed by Senator Collins.
FY2019 MilCon-VA Appropriations bill also included language authored by Senator Collins directing the VA to sustain continuity of care for rural veterans through provider agreements, based on the highly successful ARCH program, to ensure veterans in rural areas maintain convenient access to health services close to their homes as the VA implements the new VA MISSION Act legislation.
Earlier this year, Congress passed and the President signed into law legislation Senator Collins co-authored that provides $40 million for new HUD-VASH vouchers to reduce veterans’ homelessness. Since the program was first established in 2008, Maine has received 238 vouchers to support homeless veterans. Senator Collins’ efforts have contributed to homelessness among veterans declining by 49 percent since 2008.