Maine's heroic veterans deserve access to the high quality health care they have rightfully earned through their service to our nation, regardless of where they reside. As one of the most rural states in the nation, I was pleased when the Department of Veterans' Affairs in 2008 recognized the challenges faced by our veterans in accessing their benefits and selected Maine as one of the first states in the country to receive a dedicated mobile health care clinic. Since commencing its operations in Maine in 2009, the mobile health clinic has provided hundreds of veterans with access to primary care and mental health services throughout the rural regions of our state. However, now the VA is proposing to end this service. This gives me great concern and such suggestions must be rejected unless or until viable, quality alternatives are identified.
Before the unit came to Maine, veterans in Franklin, Somerset and Piscataquis counties were forced to travel up to two and a half hours to the nearest VA facilities in Bangor or Augusta. The mobile clinic has ensured our veterans can receive quality health care services without travelling these considerable distances. For nearly three years, veterans have enjoyed the peace of mind in knowing that the quality care is in close proximity to their homes. At a time when an increasing number of new veterans are transitioning into the VA system and an aging veterans population continues to require acute medical and long-term-care services, we must do all we can to ensure these benefits are accessible for beneficiaries not just in Maine but nationwide.
Given the appreciable difference this medical facility has made in the lives of hundreds of Maine's veterans, I am very concerned by the VA's recent proposal to close this service and remove this medical trailer, which is currently located next to the Upper Kennebec Valley Ambulance Service in Bingham. My staff and I are following this situation closely to ensure the VA collects adequate information from veterans in the region to make an informed decision about the impact and potential consequences this closure would have on the veterans who rely upon the trailer for medical services. I will also have a representative of my office present at the upcoming public meeting on the issue.
While I agree all facets of the federal government must do their part to rein in spending and help chart a course of fiscal sustainability, it is incumbent upon each agency to thoroughly evaluate the merits of each cost-cutting measure to ensure our federal government is able to keep its promises, especially when it comes to veterans and our senior citizens. Should the VA move forward with this proposal, it is critical they ensure equitable access to quality care for the veterans who have relied upon this trailer for primary and mental health services.
Indeed, our best and bravest deserve nothing less than our nation's unwavering support and gratitude upon their return home, in order to rightly honor their enormous sacrifices. Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have worked with the veterans of Maine on issues ranging from VA health care budgets, to establishing new specialty and primary care clinics for veterans in Portland and Bangor, to maintaining funding and staffing levels at Togus. You may be assured that I will continue to advocate for the men and women who have served in our armed forces to make certain they receive the benefits and services they have earned.
I encourage any veterans who might be impacted by this decision to contact the VA directly and my Augusta office (622-8292) so that I may relay their concerns to the VA as this proposal is debated.