ELLSWORTH, Maine — Veterans from all over Maine converged on Ellsworth on Friday for the 90th annual Department of Maine Veterans of Foreign War State Convention.
About 1,000 veterans from the 84 VFW posts in the state and the VFW Ladies Auxiliary were expected to attend the weekend convention. The entire Maine delegation, including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, along with Gov. John Baldacci addressed the veterans during the opening ceremony Friday.
The delegation received praise from veterans and active duty officers alike.
“It doesn’t matter what your politics are,” said Peter Miesburger of Caribou, a member of the VFW national legislative committee. “We’ve got one of the best delegations going in their support for veterans’ rights.”
Maj. Gen. John W. Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, echoed that sentiment.
“I’ve never gone to Washington and failed to be supported by one of those four people,” Libby said. “We couldn’t be better served by a group of four people than we are now.”
For their part, the delegation praised the efforts of the VFW and the Auxiliary for their continued efforts to ensure that veterans from all wars receive the benefits they deserve.
“Indisputably, if there is one issue that unites all of us as Mainers and Americans, it is our solemn obligation to stand by our 2.4 million American veterans and the more than 142,000 veterans from our state,” Snowe said.
The delegation highlighted some of the gains that had been made in Washington recently, including the proposed $57 billion in discretionary appropriations for Veterans Affairs and $48.2 billion in allocations for medical programs; increased funding for Togus VA Medical Center; and a focus on creating regional clinics, including one in Bangor and Lewiston, that will ensure availability and reliability of care for veterans in rural areas.
“Quality health care remains the number one issue for many of our veterans,” Collins said. “We need to ensure that they can receive quality health care as close to home as possible.”
Despite those gains, delegation members noted that there are areas where Congress needs to act in order to address issues facing veterans from all the nation’s wars. Although strides have been made in providing services for women veterans — including designing new facilities specifically to address the needs of women veterans — more will need to be done as the number of women veterans continues to increase.
Other issues that need to be addressed, the delegation said, include:
– Delays in responding to claims and appeals from veterans that have created a huge backlog of cases that need to be resolved.
– Employment and housing opportunities for returning veterans to deal with the problem of unemployed and homeless veterans.
– Increased support for caregivers-family members who care for veterans who have been injured.
– Increased support for veterans returned from service with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Representatives to the convention will discuss those and other issues during several business sessions during the convention. They also were scheduled to elect a new slate of state officers on Saturday and to attend a memorial service Friday night. Sunday’s session will include the installation of new officers.