Within weeks of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American boots were on the ground in Afghanistan. That was still true this summer when the last troops, including men and women who weren’t even born the day the World Trade Center buildings collapsed, were brought home.

Army veteran David Dickerson of Oklahoma City, Okla., joins veterans placing flags representing veteran and service members who died by suicide, on the National Mall in Washington on March 27, 2014. Young veterans, between the ages of 18 and 34, die by suicide nearly three times as often as their non-veteran peers. Charles Dharapak/Associated Press, File

This year, for the first time in 20 years, we observe Veterans Day at a time when the United States is not at war. But our obligation to repay veterans for their service is something that should never come to an end.

Maine ranks among the top of the list when states are ranked by the percentage of their population who are veterans. Nearly one in 10 Mainers has served in the military, and about 40 percent of them served since 9/11.

Veterans rightly enjoy certain benefits, including medical care, especially for conditions related to their time in service. But those promises are not always kept. Services can be hard to access and often are available only after long waits. Veterans have some unique health care needs, including mental health, that are not being met.

The most glaring failure to live up to the country’s obligations is exposed by the veteran suicide rate. According to a study by the Rand Corp., veterans kill themselves almost twice as often as people who have not served, and young veterans, between the ages of 18 and 34, die by suicide nearly three times as often as their non-veteran peers.

More than 6,000 veterans die by suicide every year, a public health crisis that is even worse when you consider that it represents a minority of the former service members who are suffering with conditions like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.


The Veterans Affairs Department has made a commitment to address these and other needs in Maine with the construction of a 62,000-square-foot community-based outpatient clinic on Commercial Street in Portland.

The new facility, which will open in January, will provide primary care, surgical, dental and eye care in addition to mental health services. It will have spaces for training, educational programming and group counseling.

The building is designed for comfort and privacy, and it makes a statement.

The $64 million facility adjacent to the city’s business and tourist districts, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, shows a commitment to meeting the needs of men and women who served their country. It will take continued commitment to come through on the promises that a project like this represents.

On this Nov. 11, the 103rd anniversary of the end of World War I, we should all remember the awful cost of war and renew our commitment to the welfare of the men and women who served when they were needed.

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