AUGUSTA — Today, the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee endorsed a bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to prevent the closure of the Maine Veterans’ Homes in Caribou and Machias and ensure the longevity of the four other facilities throughout the state. The vote was unanimous of members present.
“There is no question that the Maine Veterans’ Homes provide first-rate care to the residents who call these facilities home. It’s a testament to the extraordinary staff dedicated to serving our servicemen and women in need of long-term care. However, there seems to be a debate about whether it’s worth it to provide this care in rural Maine. Let me be clear — when the Maine Legislature established the Maine Veterans’ Homes, we made a commitment to veterans across this state — a commitment that I intend to keep,” said President Jackson. “We cannot and will not turn our backs on the brave men and women who have served our country and now find themselves in need of quality, compassionate long-term care. This legislation will ensure that the closure of these homes remains the option of last resort.”
The amended version of the bill — 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” — establishes a process to ensure the state explores every available option before approving the closure of a Maine Veterans’ Home. The measure puts the specific locations of these facilities back into statute.
“Our veterans should be able to get the long-term care they need while also remaining in their communities and near loved ones. The Maine Veterans’ Homes’ (MVH) greatest strength is the ability to provide an unparalleled level of care to veterans living in facilities located in different parts of the state,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “Today, our committee unanimously voted to advance legislation that will keep the Maine Veterans’ Homes in Caribou and Machias open and serving the residents in their care. This was a deeply emotional public hearing and work session and I’m proud of the thoughtful work that was done in our committee in partnership with President Jackson and the Mills Administration.”
The new closure process would require the Board of the Maine Veterans’ Homes to notify state and legislative leaders, including the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, in a timely fashion well-before submitting the required closure plan to the Department of Health Human Service. All licensed long-term care facilities are required to submit a plan to DHHS for approval before moving forward with the planned closure. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee would then be required to convene a meeting on the closure where the leadership at the Maine Veterans’ Homes would have the opportunity to make the case for closing a facility and the general public would have the opportunity to provide comment. All of these changes are designed to ensure state officials and the public have all the information to best figure out how to save the facilities and continue serving the veterans already living in these homes.
President Jackson introduced the bill after learning that the CEO and Board of the Maine Veterans’ Homes had decided to close the facilities in Caribou and Machias effective this spring. The Board made the decision in a vote held last October even though the announcement was only made public late last month.
“LD 2001 would not appear to violate MVH’s due process rights, to the extent it even has any as a governmental entity. The current matter under consideration by the Legislature is simply an amendment to MVH’s organizing statute and is firmly within the Legislature’s prerogative,” said Attorney General Aaron Frey in a letter to the Committee on Veteran and Legal Affairs.
The Maine Veterans’ Homes were established by the Maine Legislature in 1977 as a quasi-state nonprofit to provide long-term care to veterans and eligible military spouses. The Maine Veterans’ Homes now operates six facilities throughout the state located in Augusta, Caribou, Bangor, Machias, Scarborough, and South Paris. The location of each facility was determined by the Maine Legislature and written into statute. In 2016, the Maine Legislature passed a law that made a number of technical changes that included stripping the location-specific language from statute. LD 2001 puts the location-specific language back into statute.
At the public hearing for LD 2001, dozens of Maine veterans, family members and staff testified in favor of the legislation. The bill also earned the support of Congressman Jared Golden; Aroostook County Board of Commissioners; Kris Doody of Cary Medical Center; Maj. Gen. Douglas A. Farnham, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Defense; Veterans and Emergency Management; Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program; Debra Couture, Commander of The American Legion; James Gehring, Service Officer for the Aroostook Veterans Alliance; United Veterans of Maine; and Business Investment Group in Caribou.
LD 2001 will now go before the full Senate and House for initial votes next week.