Coming together to save Caribou’s Maine Veterans Home

When the Legislature established the Maine Veterans’ Homes back in 1977, the state made a commitment to the men and women serving in our nation’s armed forces — a commitment to repay their service by making sure they would be cared for in their later years.

For more than 40 years, the state has kept this promise, making it possible for veterans and military spouses to get quality, long-term care near their loved ones and the communities they call home.

For Cynthia in Mars Hill, moving her father, a Korean War veteran, into the Caribou Veterans’ Home gave her great comfort knowing that her dad could get the care he needed only a short car ride away. The same is true for David Keaton of Caribou, whose 93-year-old mother requires 24-hour care and calls the facility home. 

 So when I heard that the CEO and Board of Trustees at Maine Veterans’ Homes had decided to close the facilities in Caribou and Machias, I was shocked. When I learned that the decision had been made in October of last year, I was outraged. To close these facilities would be to take Maine veterans out of their homes, out of their communities and away from their loved ones. More than that, it would mean taking away first-class care provided by the Maine Veterans’ Homes.

 Veterans and their families living in rural Maine deserve better. That’s why I introduced LD 2001, “An Act To Fund and Support the Veterans Homes in Caribou and Machias and Require Legislative Approval for the Establishment and Closure of Veterans Homes.” 

 Under this new law, the CEO and Board of the Maine Veterans’ Homes are required to get approval from the Maine Legislature before moving forward with a plan to close any of the six facilities in the state. The measure also put the locations of each Maine Veterans’ Home back into state law. 

 While the Legislature originally determined the locations for the homes, a 2016 law that made technical changes to the program also stripped the location-specific language from the statute. No one expected this change would lead the board to turn its back on rural veterans. LD 2001 ensures that the closure of any facility requires a change to state law. 

 Finally, it establishes a transparent closure process that the CEO and board of Maine Veterans’ Homes must follow. The intent is to ensure the Maine Legislature and other governmental entities have the time to respond to this crisis. This process includes a public meeting where the MVH would have to make the case for the closure, lawmakers could ask questions, and the general public could provide comments. All of this would ensure that Maine lawmakers had the information they need to come up with a plan to save the home.

 Nobody expects the Maine Veterans’ Homes to operate without the resources they need. However, the Maine Legislature cannot help if we don’t know what is needed or how bad things have gotten. 

Some people may prefer to sit on the sidelines and complain rather than get their hands dirty, but that’s not who I am. My parents didn’t raise me to shy away from hard work, back down when things get tough or give in when the challenge seemed too great. Instead, they taught me that if you believe something is worth fighting for, you roll up your sleeves, you get involved and you get to work. 

 I introduced LD 2001 because our veterans are worth fighting for and their homes are worth saving. Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, chair of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, worked quickly to get the measure to the full Legislature for a vote. Governor Janet Mills signed the bill into law the moment it landed on her desk. She also updated her supplemental budget to include funding for these homes.

 None of this would have been possible without the outpouring of support from families, veterans, community leaders and the extraordinary staff at the Caribou Veterans’ Homes. The reason the Maine Veterans’ Homes in Caribou and Machias will continue caring for veterans in rural Maine is because we refused to sit on the sidelines and leave our veterans behind.

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is Maine Senate president. He can be reached at either 207-287-1500 (office) or 207-436-0763 (cell), or via email at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

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