U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is co-sponsoring a bill that would expand a federal program to allow veterans seeking mental health care to be treated immediately at private facilities.

Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, signed on to the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act last week. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Thomas MacArthur, R-N.J., would expand care offered under the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, a $16 billion measure that Congress passed last year to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after a nationwide scandal over long waiting times.

That bill allowed veterans who wait a month or more for an appointment at a VA hospital or live 40 or more miles from a VA health facility to see private doctors at the government’s expense. MacArthur’s bill would roll those requirements back, allowing veterans to immediately get mental health care at facilities eligible for reimbursement from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Mental health care for veterans has been a hot topic in Maine recently. In June, a federal watchdog released a report linking the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus to “nationwide systemic problems” that led to veterans not receiving or waiting long periods for mental health care because of inappropriate scheduling practices and other problems similar to those that sparked last year’s scandal.

Togus leaders said many of the problems have been fixed or will be by the end of September, but the report from the VA’s Office of the Inspector General drew strong reactions from Poliquin and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat. In a statement, Poliquin said he’ll “continue to support bills that will help our local heroes receive the health care they were promised, earned and deserve.”


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