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Caribou and Machias veterans homes will stay open following board vote

The Maine Veterans Home in Caribou is one of two in the state that are set to close this spring, according to officials from the nonprofit chain of veterans care facilities.
Melissa Lizotte/Aroostook Republican
via the Bangor Daily News
The Maine Veterans Home in Caribou is one of two in the state that are set to close this spring, according to officials from the nonprofit chain of veterans care facilities.

The Maine Veterans' Homes in Caribou and Machias will officially stay open, following a vote by the non-profit's board of trustees.

Friday's vote came a day after Gov. Janet Mills signed a new bill into law that will require Maine Veterans' Homes to seek funding and legislative approval before closing a facility in the future.

The measured, introduced by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, applies to the six veterans homes and names them in the statute. Mills has dedicated $3.5 million to cover the homes' operational losses, and lawmakers have said they've received assurances from the legislature's appropriations committee to include that funding in the forthcoming supplemental budget.

The news of the board's vote earned praise Monday from Jackson, Mills, both of Maine's U.S. senators and the American Legion.

But Jason Hall, the judge advocate for the Maine Legion, says it's not a permanent solution.

"It's almost like a short-term band-aid to give us time to come up with a better plan," he said. "I hope that's exactly what people do that are working on this, the board, the CEO, everyone involved, the governor, even Sen. Jackson's office. I hope we all keep an eye on what's going on."

The Legion has spoken with members of Maine's congressional delegation about possible funding solutions that might help keep the veterans homes running well into the future, Hall said.

Jackson said the new law was an "iron-clad, slam dunk" direction to the board to keep the Caribou and Machias homes open, though he acknowledged that the legislature can and should work on solutions that will keep Maine Veterans' Homes stay financially viable in the long-term.

"Those are things that I'm fully committed to, as I think the rest of us are," Jackson said. "We just all need to put this unfortunate situation in the past. I would say not forget about it but put it in the past and work toward the future, because it's the residents that we should all be concerned about."

He said he knows of at least one resident who moved during the five-week period in which the homes had been due to close.

"I spoke to one person who moved their mother out, and their father was there but wanted to stay," Jackson said. They were going to keep their father there. That was last week. Other than that I don't know for certain that anyone else was moved but I can certainly understand if someone did with just that uncertainty."

In a statement, Maine Veterans' Homes CEO Kelley Kash said the Machias and Caribou staff, residents and their families were notified of the plans to keep the facilities open.

"We greatly appreciate the allocation and assurance to work together over the next year to find a more equitable and adequate funding solution, which is essential to preserving access to quality care and support for veterans in future years," he said.

Maine Veterans' Homes is still concerned about a declining veteran population in the state and about recruiting enough staff to work at the facilities, Kash added.