AUGUSTA, Maine — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs system in Maine plans to hire six clinicians as part of a national push to boost the number of mental health professionals treating veterans.

The jobs are expected to be added at VA facilities in Lewiston, Augusta and Portland. Funding for the positions is on its way to Maine, according to Ryan Lilly, associate medical center director for the VA Maine Healthcare System.

The local hirings are part of the national VA’s plan to add up to 1,900 mental health clinicians and support staff to meet rising demand for services. Officials hope to hire most of the mental health workers within six months, according to a press release from the VA.

The rising suicide rate among American troops is one reason the VA is focusing on mental health services, Lilly said.

After leveling off in 2010 and 2011, suicides are surging among active-duty troops, averaging nearly one a day this year.

Nationwide, the VA employs more than 20,000 mental health staff, including nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. In Maine, 99 mental health workers assist veterans through the VA.

The Maine system serves just under 40,000 veterans, Lilly said.

Each additional mental health care provider potentially could reach hundreds more veterans battling mental illness, the VA said in the release.

“Mental health services must be closely aligned with veterans’ needs and fully integrated with health care facility operations,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. “Improving access to mental health services will help support the current and future veterans who depend on VA for these vital services.”

Anyone interested in the new positions can visit

Last year, VA provided mental health services to 1.3 million veterans. Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of veterans receiving mental health services.

Veterans can visit VA’s website at to find the nearest VA facility or Vet Center. Immediate help is available at or by calling the crisis line at 800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.

Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...