Veterans services in southern Maine soon will have a new home – and a much improved one at that.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ 62,000-square-foot Community Based Outpatient Clinic, nearing completion on West Commercial Street in Portland, is expected to serve as many as 400 veterans a day. It will consolidate services now offered to veterans at clinics in Saco and on Fore Street in Portland.

The $64 million project will provide a wide range of medical, mental health, and education services for a large swath of the state’s estimated 114,000 veterans. At the same time, it’s designed to be a living monument to their service.

“There will be no way of mistaking what this building is for when you come down Commercial Street,” said Tyler Watson, an engineer, lead project manager and strategic planner for VA Maine, during a recent tour of the facility.

Key to that recognition will be the large glass front entryway with illuminated emblems recognizing all the branches of the U.S. armed forces. Inside the building, a patient information and welcome center at the entrance will feature a world map highlighted with campaign ribbons from the many areas of conflict where Maine veterans have served.

Planning for the new  CBOC, one of several under construction or set to open in 2022 across the country, began in 2010. The Portland clinic’s opening comes on the heels of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan – the long-awaited end to a conflict in which many Mainers participated.

While comprehensive counts aren’t readily available for all Mainers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past two decades, the National Guard reports that Mainers made some 3,000 deployments to one of the countries, or both, over the course of those two wars. Congressional records supporting the construction of the new Portland facility show the number of veterans from all eras eligible for services here will tick steadily upward, reaching more than 104,000 in 2024, before declining to about 88,000 in 2034.

Services offered at the new facility will include primary care, mental health, surgical and medicine specialty services, dental and eye care, audiology, physical therapy, prosthetics support, a phlebotomy lab, radiology, and telehealth. Veterans receiving these services now from the Fore Street or Saco clinics will not see any interruptions in care – the transition to the new building on West Commercial Street will be staged to keep operations running smoothly.

Telemedicine technologies throughout the new facility will further improve service to Maine veterans in rural locations, according to the VA. The clinic also will serve as a teaching site, with space dedicated to enhancing affiliate relationships with the Tufts Medical School and Maine Medical Center.

In all, the clinic will employ more than 140 staff, including doctors, nurses, other specialists, support staff  and VA police for security. On-site parking will include a staff lot, along with a patient-only, 400-space parking garage.

The building is designed for comfort and privacy, but also features spaces where veterans can meet together for group counseling. Classrooms will  house training and educational programming for veterans, staff and volunteers. Another room will be dedicated to quiet reflection, prayer or meditation.

Veteran John H. Ott, 77, of Harpswell sees the new CBOC as a big step up. Ott, who served as an ordnance officer in the Vietnam War, has health problems associated with exposure to the defoliation chemical Agent Orange. He said the VA system has always provided him with good care, although processing and wait times have sometimes been an issue. “There’s still a lot of rigmarole there,” he said.

Ott currently receives some health care services from the Fore Street clinic and others from the VA’s main campus at Togus. He was especially pleased to hear about the addition of a veterans-only parking garage – a major improvement over the limited street parking around Fore Street.

“The parking there is atrocious,” Ott said. “You have to fight to find a place, but the service from the clinic has always been outstanding.”

Project manager Watson said one key component of the new building is an on-site power backup generation system – in the event of widespread power outages caused by weather or other disaster, it will enable the clinic to remain open both operationally and as a shelter. He also noted that waiting spaces for veterans have been designed for both comfort and privacy and will feature such Maine themes and color schemes as  pine, ocean, loon and moose – all designed to easily  connect veterans with their care providers. Those spaces will also have amenities for waiting family members or friends – including ample charging stations for mobile devices.

Ott, the Vietnam veteran, appreciates how the new clinic is designed to honor service, while also providing state-of-the-art care.

“It sends the message we really do care about you and we are going to take care of you,” he said. “From the officers on down, we all did our part and we all deserve the same care.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.