AUGUSTA – A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, intended to prevent the Maine Veterans’ Homes in Caribou and Machias from closing, received a public hearing before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
“To be honest, I’m still in shock — all of this is happening so fast. I can’t even begin to imagine the shock, frustration and anger that the Caribou and Machias’ residents, their family members and extraordinary staff are experiencing — the stories are heartbreaking,” said President Jackson. “We cannot turn our backs on the brave men and women who have served our country or military spouses who now find themselves in need of quality, compassionate long-term care. Our veterans didn’t throw in the towel on us when things got tough. We shouldn’t either.”
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” – would require the Board of Maine Veterans’ Homes to seek legislative approval to close the long-term care facilities caring for veterans and their spouses. It also provides funding for the facilities in Caribou and Machias in order to support continued operations. The intent of the measure is to ensure that both the Maine Veterans’ Homes and the Maine Legislature explore all available options to keep a facility open before resorting to closure.
Maine Veterans’ Homes was established by the Maine Legislature in 1977 as a quasi-state non-profit to provide long-term care to veterans and military spouses. In 1986, Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, introduced and successfully passed legislation establishing a Maine Veterans’ Home facility in northern Maine. Maine Veterans’ Homes now operates six facilities throughout the state in Augusta, Caribou, Bangor, Machias, Scarborough and South Paris. Each of these locations originally was determined by the Maine Legislature. In 2016, the Maine Legislature passed a law that stripped this language from statute.
“My Mom is confined to her bed and needs around the clock care and has come to value the level of care she has received at the Maine Veterans Home in Caribou. When I broke the news to her, about what was released last week, she was devastated. To move her to southern Maine, at another Maine Veterans’ Home facility would be impractical and cruel as the majority of her family live in and around the Caribou area,” said David Keaton of Caribou. “When the Maine Veterans’ Home in Caribou opened, I was grateful we were providing those who served our country with a level of care they deserved in their golden years. I have serious concerns about closing a facility, in just a matter of months, that the current Maine Veterans’ Home residents believed they would stay and be cared for the remainder of their lives. I consider this proposed closure action as morally wrong and strongly support Senator Jackson’s bill L.D. 2001.”
The Maine Veterans’ Home in Caribou has the capacity to serve 70 residents. At the moment, 57 residents call the facility home, including 35 veterans and 22 spouses. The Maine Veterans’ Home in Machias has the capacity to serve 30 residents. At the moment, 15 veterans and 8 military spouses call the facility home.
During the public hearing, members of the Maine Veterans’ Home Board revealed that an initial vote to close the two rural long-term care facilities took place in October, despite the board only alerting the state, members of the Legislature and the general public last month. At the Caribou City Council on Monday, the CEO of the Maine Veterans’ Home, cited funding, staffing shortages and a declining population of veterans, saying “the veteran population is expected to drop by two-thirds in the next 20-30 years.”
Maine Veterans’ Homes received some state funding much like any other long-term care facility in the state through MaineCare reimbursement rates, as well as federal funding, private paying customers and charitable donations. In 2019, the Maine Veterans’ Homes approached the Legislature, as the organization has done in the past, requesting additional one-time funding, which was included in the biennial budget. In 2020, President Jackson successfully passed legislation to provide additional funding to Maine’s long-term care facilities, including Maine Veterans’ Homes.
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 be the subject of additional work sessions before going before the full Legislature for a vote.