WASHINGTON — The House today approved legislation that would fill a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the federal reimbursement that Maine Veterans’ Homes receive for the cost of caring for disabled veterans.

The provision authored by Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd, was part of a broader veterans bill passed by unanimous voice vote, and affects the reimbursement rates paid to state veterans’ homes around the country, including Maine Veterans’ Homes and its six locations.

Michaud, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced the reimbursement fix legislation earlier this year, along with Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the committee.

“This will ensure that these veterans are not put out on the street,” Michaud said on the House floor prior to the vote on the bill.

The problem for a number of state veterans’ homes nationwide was highlighted in a committee hearing last year. In adopting a new policy meant to improve long-term care for veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs too severely limited reimbursements for such facilities.

Kelley Kash, CEO of Maine Veterans’ Homes, told the Veterans Affairs Committee that the VA was not paying enough to the nonprofit organization created by the Maine Legislature in 1977 to cover the cost of skilled nursing care for the residents.

Kash said the gap could cause Maine Veterans’ Homes – which has 640 beds at homes in Augusta, Bangor, Caribou, Scarborough, South Paris and Machias – to lose $8 million to $16 million per year if it were to admit every veteran who reasonably could seek admission. That would bankrupt the institution in a year and a half to three years, Kash said.

Kash said today in a phone interview that the legislative fix, which is pending in the Senate, would make a big financial difference for state veterans’ homes like his, because it would bring the VA’s reimbursement rates up to those paid by Medicare, a difference of about $125 per day, per resident.

“We just wanted Medicare comparable rates,” Kash said. “From what we’ve seen of the bill and what we are able to review, it looks like it is on track to do that. We are pretty optimistic.”

After the vote, Michaud said in a statement that “House passage of this bill represents one more important step forward for our disabled veterans,” and that he is hopeful the Senate will soon follow suit.

Michaud said earlier this year that the VA has acknowledged the need for the fix.

“Through no fault of their own, state veterans’ homes in Maine and around the country are faced with significant shortfalls that threaten their ability to treat veterans and remain open,” Michaud said earlier this year. “I have been disappointed that it has taken so long for the VA to address this issue, but I am glad they now agree that legislation is necessary to fix it.”

The broader bill also includes a provision addressing what Michaud and other lawmakers have charged is the VA’s inadequate system for properly reporting sexual assaults that occur at VA medical facilities.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected] Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC.