Last year, a bipartisan panel of veterans, lawmakers, state officials and members of veterans organizations set out to find ways to strengthen the services provided to Maine veterans. The Commission to Strengthen and Align the Services Provided to Maine Veterans delved into every area affecting the lives of the men and women who have served – over 140,000 Mainers – and produced a detailed report with recommendations about how the state can do a better job to honor their service.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, on which we both serve, used the panel’s recommendations to craft several bills designed to make a real difference in the lives of veterans in our state.

Rep. Longstaff served in the Maine National Guard and the Marine Corps. He has a son who retired after 30 years of active service in the Army and a grandson serving in the Navy. Rep. Monaghan comes from a family of veterans. One nephew served two tours in Afghanistan and received the Purple Heart; another currently serves in the Navy. These bills are deeply personal to us.

The measures aim to reduce homelessness, support veterans pursuing higher education, address transportation needs and improve outreach and communication to Maine’s veterans, many of whom lack information about the resources available to them.

One of the commission’s most alarming findings was that less than half of Maine’s veteran population is enrolled with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs – meaning that they may not be receiving health care and other services they earned.

L.D. 1612 would create a marketing and outreach program at the state Bureau of Veterans’ Services in order to make contact with more veterans and increase awareness about available resources. It would require the bureau to hire two mobile veterans service officers. Maine currently has one veterans service officer for every 20,000 veterans in the state, a ratio that is far behind that of other states.


The bill would also implement an electronic records management system to help bureau staff track cases and connect individuals to needed care.

The panel paid special attention to identifying the unique communication needs of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It found that the state needs to adjust its tactics to reach today’s veterans.

Importantly, this measure will also include family members and friends in outreach efforts. Because of the stigmatization of seeking care or lack of trust in the VA system, veterans can sometimes be reluctant to seek help on their own.

Experts estimate that of the 22 average daily suicides among veterans, 17 involve veterans not enrolled in the VA’s health care system. It is critical for every veteran to get connected with the help they need, and is available to them, after facing the physical and emotional strains of deployment and returning home to an often-uncertain future.

Homelessness among veterans is another chronic problem, both nationally and in Maine. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been returning home to a struggling economy, and some have sadly fallen on hard times.

There is currently no single entity coordinating efforts to address veteran homelessness in Maine. L.D. 1611 would create the position of homeless coordinator within the Bureau of Veterans’ Services to develop a statewide strategy to end homelessness among veterans.


The commission found that veterans working to earn a college degree need additional support with the difficult transition from military life to student life. Educating faculty, staff and other students about veterans issues, military culture and the emotions resulting from deployment has been an effective approach. L.D. 1625 would help strengthen these efforts at other Maine colleges by directing the state university and community college systems to determine and implement best practices.

Finally, L.D. 1602 establishes a work group to create a regional pilot project that will provide veterans with transportation to essential services and opportunities, including health care, jobs and community activities. Current programs are failing to meet needs, especially given the aging veteran population and the rural nature of Maine.

The four bills passed unanimously in committee and will now go to the full Legislature. We urge our colleagues to support them.

Maine should be proud of our veteran population – over 1 in 10 Mainers have served. We must ensure that they are honored for their service by helping them return home to live healthy, fulfilling lives.

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