The 2017 fiscal year budget for military construction and veterans affairs includes nearly $7 million to relocate and expand a veterans’ outpatient clinic in Portland.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, announced the funding Thursday and said the money would cover the lease of a new facility and facilitate a partnership between the VA Maine Healthcare System, Maine Medical Center and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

The goal is to consolidate community-based outpatient clinics in Portland and Saco and provide a broader suite of services at the new, expanded facility. Once a new location is chosen, the Saco clinic would close.

“Preserving veterans’ access to the health care they have earned is one of my top priorities,” Collins said in a statement. “VA outpatient clinics provide an essential service to our veterans by allowing them to receive outpatient care without the hassle of traveling to a medical center.”

The spending bill passed through the Appropriations Committee unanimously but still awaits a vote in the Senate.

Maine, which has one of the highest percentages of veterans of any state, has only one dedicated veterans hospital – Togus in Augusta. However, the VA also operates outpatient clinics in eight communities throughout the state as a way to provide care to those who live in far-flung communities.

The VA requested funding for a new Portland facility in last year’s budget but it didn’t make the final budget. A location has yet to be identified.

Portland’s existing outpatient facility has operated on Fore Street since 2011. As of last year, it employees 45 staff members and provided care to roughly 3,800 veterans.

The potential expansion in Portland comes at a time when the VA is seeking to help veterans in rural states, such as Maine, by creating more satellite or outpatient facilities. At the same time, the department is under intense pressure from veterans organizations and members of Congress to reduce the waiting time for veterans to receive care and address a backlog of disability claims.

In additional to the $6.9 million in funding to lease new clinic space in Portland, the military construction and VA budget includes funding to extend the Access Received Closer to Home program, which assists veterans in northern Maine who don’t live close to healthcare facilities.

The program operates out of Cary Medical Center in Caribou and serves more than 1,400 veterans. Collins and her colleague, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, have pushed for an extension of that program, which is set to expire in August.

“The inclusion of this provision is very encouraging news for veterans in Aroostook County,” King said in a statement. “There is more work left to be done, but this is a significant step forward in our work to extend this vital program and ensure that Maine’s veterans receive the timely and convenient health care services they deserve.”

The proposed budget also includes three projects that would benefit Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

• $17.8 million for the consolidation of unaccompanied housing.

• $30.1 million for utility improvements for nuclear platforms.

• $27 million to construct a replacement medical/dental clinic.

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