BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said the health care veterans receive here is “something to be proud of,” as a scandal over long wait times for doctors’ appointments and hidden waitlists engulfs VA facilities across the country.
“You need to look no further than right here in Maine to see some of the ways we can meet the needs of our veterans,” he said at the American Legion State Convention on Saturday morning.
Michaud, the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also touted his bipartisan approach to addressing the issues facing the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The Veterans’ Affairs Committee has been acting in bipartisan unison because we know this isn’t a Republican issue or a Democratic issue,” he said.
Michaud has been accused by Republicans of “failed oversight” with regard to the problems at VA facilities across the country.
“Congressman Mike Michaud, Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has had six long years to fix problems within the VA and demand change,” wrote Gov. Paul LePage in a prepared statement released in late May. “Instead, during an election year, just last month, he decides to propose reform – too little, too late.”
A statement distributed last week by the communications director of the Maine Republican Party, David Sorensen, said that by denying the existence of problems at the VA hospital in Maine, Michaud was “sugarcoating” the issue.
The Togus VA hospital in Augusta outperformed other facilities, according to a recent audit of 731 facilities across the country, though 664 out of 48,000 veterans served — about 1 percent — had to wait more than 30 days to get an appointment.
“The wait time for new veterans to see specialists was roughly 55 days, ranking Maine second-worst of the eight VA hospitals in New England in that measure,” Sorensen’s statement said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday that about 100,000 veterans experienced long wait times at VA facilities across the country, Reuters reported. In some cases, schedulers were pressured to “utilize inappropriate practices in order to make wait times … appear more favorable,” according to the audit.
After addressing the American Legion, Michaud dismissed accusations from other gubernatorial candidates.
“It’s disheartening to see my opponents using veterans as political pawns,” he said. “We’ve been very aggressive in our oversight for a number of years.”
Those who heard Michaud’s remarks on Saturday and were interviewed later were supportive of the congressman’s efforts to work for veterans.
“Mike Michaud has always been a friend of the Legion and a friend of veterans,” said John Hargreaves, commander of the American Legion Department of Maine. “I have complete confidence that the congress is finally doing something about this issue that concerns the VA.”
Ronald Rainfrette, a vice commander, said that even though he is conservative, he does not think Michaud can be entirely blamed for the problems.
“It’s not just Mike alone,” he said. He explained that problems at Togus have been “minor” compared to other facilities.
In describing the issue with backlog at the VA, he added, “this is not new.”