Congress appears ready to pass emergency funding of $3.4 billion to continue for six months a program that allows veterans to get health care close to home.
The House failed to pass a similar bill earlier in the week, but after some intense committee negotiations, a compromise bill was approved by the House and is expected to win Senate passage next week.
That is good news for Maine veterans, says Amedeo Lauria with the American Legion Department of Maine.
“We gotta get away from one size fits all and start looking at what makes sense for veteran care, especially here in Maine, and we advocate for whatever is going to be best for the veteran,” he says.
Lauria says a VA pilot program at Cary Medical Center in Aroostook County is a positive example, sparing vets in northern Maine the five-hour drive to the Togus VA center in Augusta. But the Choice Program, which allows veterans to get health services close to home, will run out of money in August and also lose the authorization it needs to operate.
Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District stressed the importance of the Choice Program in a speech supporting passage.
“You might live in Fort Kent, or Van Buren, or Madawaska, and be a five-hour drive away from Togus. If you are not feeling well and it’s February and the snow is blowing sideways, it might be real tough to get down to Togus,” he says.
Maine has about 125,000 veterans, among the largest number per capita of any state. Many live in rural areas, but even those in southern Maine have to drive up to Togus.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District says she supports language in the bill authorizing the lease of a new 50,000-square-foot outpatient clinic in Portland.
“The new facility will be a huge step in improving the care for veterans in my district. The proposed facility will go a long way toward a more efficient, patient-centered approach to care,” she says.
Pingree says the legislation authorizes similar leases in 22 other cities across the country to provide more convenient access to health care.
The measure had the unanimous support of the Veterans Affairs Committee. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be passed and sent to the president for his approval.
This story was originally published on July 28, 2017 at 6:10 p.m. ET.