BINGHAM – The message from veterans was clear on Wednesday: Do not make us travel for as long as five hours round-trip to get medical care.

About 120 veterans, their families, community leaders and federal representatives gathered Wednesday night at the American Legion Stanley Beane Post to learn more about why a mobile medical clinic serving 400 veterans from three counties must close.

Many veterans expressed frustration during the two-hour meeting at the imminent closure of the 53-foot medical trailer in Bingham, which will force veterans from Somerset, Franklin and Piscataquis counties to get care at the distant VA Maine Healthcare System center at Togus, outside Augusta, or the Bangor Community Based Outpatient Clinic.

Gary Farnham, a veteran from Madison, said: “Here we are worrying about a petty amount of money.”

He pointed to a World War II flag on the wall and said, “This says, ‘A grateful nation remembers.’ I think you forgot.”

Brian Stiller, director of the VA Maine Healthcare System, cited high costs and too few patients as the primary reason for ceasing services at the mobile clinic on Oct. 1.

As a pilot program funded by a federal grant, the trailer has provided checkups and basic blood work for veterans for two years.

“We have to work harder at providing closer-to-home access,” Stiller said. “But I’m not sure that the mobile medical unit is the approach that will bring us to where we need to be.”

At its peak, the clinic drew about 550 veterans, Stiller said. Ideally, it should have been serving 800 to 1,500.

Closing the clinic has been projected to save the VA Maine Healthcare System $100,000 to $200,000 in annual operating costs. Stiller declined to provide a specific amount of savings Wednesday.

Home-based care is available for veterans who can’t travel, and the Disabled American Veterans organization can drive veterans to and from Togus, Stiller said.

But some at the meeting said sick veterans in remote areas can’t travel the hours it takes to get to Togus.

Staff members from the offices of U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud attended the meeting. Snowe’s office released a statement before the meeting urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to fully evaluate the impact of closing the clinic.