Caring for Rural Vets

Posted Sept. 18, 2008, at 5:01 p.m.

Members of Congress typically try to carve out a niche or two, choosing issues on which they can focus and become experts. Second Congressional District Rep. Mike Michaud has been a consistent voice on issues that relate to military veterans, and his steady work as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health has yielded some substantial and practical results.

Maine has one of the highest percentages of veterans among U.S. states at 16 percent of the population — 154,000 vets — so Michaud’s work serves a significant number of our family, friends and neighbors. In a recent meeting with the BDN, Rep. Michaud reported that the Veterans Affairs budget has increased by $6.6 billion over the previous year, an essential step to-ward helping our vets, especially the baby boomer vets who are approaching the senior years. But beyond dedicating funds to caring for our veterans, Rep. Michaud has overseen some innovative responses to the needs of veterans, especially in a rural state like Maine, with a far-flung population.

Through his efforts, Maine is part of a pilot program that allows certain veterans — those designated as “highly rural” — to receive covered health services through providers who are not part of the VA system. Highly rural veterans are defined as those who live 60 miles from the nearest VA facility providing primary care services, more than 120 miles from a VA facility providing acute hospital care, or more than 240 miles from a VA facility providing tertiary care.

Another recent development, Rep. Michaud reported, is the House passage of a Senate bill that would increase benefits for disabled veterans and certain surviving family members by the same amount that Social Security benefits increase. The measure awaits the president’s signature.

The rural nature of Maine has led to the creation of an innovative way to treat veterans. Rather than maintain a single, central medical facility, the VA has opened clinics around the state. These Community Based Outreach Clinics are located in places like Lincoln, where 1,000 veterans are using the services, Calais, Caribou, Houlton and Rumford, as well as in larger service centers like Bangor and Lewiston-Auburn. The Houlton and Caribou clinics are linked with the town’s regional hospital, a connection Rep. Michaud believes should be replicated in other rural settings.

He also is championing what he calls research and development work for veteran care, which could benefit both veterans and the local economy. Rep. Michaud is exploring the possibility of working with Husson University to create a site where dentures could be manufactured in Bangor for veterans all across the country.

While veterans are a minority of our population, serving their health needs should be a high priority for the rest of us, and Rep. Michaud understands this.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/09/18/opinion/caring-for-rural-vets/ printed on October 23, 2014