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

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

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

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

The problem for a number of 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 not-for-profit 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 a total of 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 1½ to three years, Kash said.

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

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

Michaud said earlier this year that the VA has acknow-ledged the need for the fix.

“I have been disappointed that it has taken so long for the VA to address this issue,” he said, “but I am glad they now agree that legislation is necessary to fix it.”

The broader bill includes a provision addressing what Michaud and other lawmakers have said 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]

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