BANGOR, Maine — Military veterans in the Bangor area and the entire northern part of Maine can look forward to improved health care services thanks to a new Department of Veterans Affairs health clinic now officially under construction. Officials gathered Tuesday afternoon for a groundbreaking ceremony near the site of the new community-based outpatient clinic, or CBOC, which will be located beside the Maine Veterans’ Home on land formerly part of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center. It is expected to open in the summer of 2011.
The 29,000-square-foot clinic will become the second facility on what is envisioned as a regional VA campus that eventually may include a free-standing hospice center for end-of-life care as well as affordable apartments for veterans. The CBOC will be built, owned and maintained by C.D. Smith Construction Inc. of Fond du Lac, Wis., and leased to the VA.
Brian Stiller, medical center director for the Togus VA Medical Center, said the clinic would be the largest in Maine, almost three times larger than the existing CBOC on Hancock Street that it will replace. The center will offer primary care and mental health services, laboratory diagnostics and specialty services such as audiology, optometry, physical therapy and dental care. In addition, imaging technologies such as X-ray and ultrasound will be available. Many veterans now travel to Togus outside of Augusta for these services.
The new CBOC also will coordinate in-home care for veterans recovering from illness or injury as well as those at the end of life.
U.S. Navy Airman George Mathis, senior vice commander for the Disabled American Veterans organization in Maine and a veteran of the Vietnam War, said the new health center will reduce wait times and improve care for about 9,000 Maine veterans in the northern part of the state. He expressed special concern for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who suffer from high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“Younger vets don’t want to admit they have a problem,” Mathis said. “The VA has the means to help these guys, but they have to be willing to come forward.”
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud told a small audience of veterans and their families that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is committed to funding health services for veterans in rural areas.
“Veterans deserve the quality health care and expanded services this facility will provide,” the 2nd District Democrat said. Shinseki is expected to visit the Togus campus later this week, Michaud said.
Also speaking at Tuesday’s event were representatives from the offices of Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Gov. John Baldacci sent a statement of appreciation.
There are six VA community-based outpatient clinics in Maine, located in Bangor, Calais, Caribou, Lincoln, Rumford and Saco. A seventh is under construction in Lewiston. Part-time clinics are located in Houlton and Fort Kent, and mobile services are provided in Jackman, Bingham, Greenville and Dover-Foxcroft.