LATEST NEWS

Veterans in Maine
  • Don’t block Maine veterans’ access to their doctor

    Editorial by Assistant House Majority Leader Representative Jared Golden 

    Like many veterans, after serving in the US Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting vital Department of Veterans Affairs medical services helped me transition out of the military and start a new chapter to my life back home in Maine.

    Today, there are veterans who are facing unnecessary roadblocks to accessing the medical services they have earned because state government has dragged its feet on complying with federal Real ID standards.

    That’s not ok. The good news is we can do something now to help these veterans instead of waiting to resolve the larger issue of state compliance with federal ID standards.

    The Real ID Act was enacted by Congress in 2005, but Maine refused to comply.

    We’ve gotten waivers in the past to protect Mainers from the repercussions of noncompliance, but in 2016 our waiver application was denied.

    Now, Maine driver’s licenses don’t meet the new federal Real ID standard, which is being phased in over the next year.

    While Mainers from all walks of life will be impacted beginning in 2018, some southern Maine vets are already facing a problem right now.

    Since Feb. 1, approximately 500 Maine veterans who get their medical care from a VA facility at the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire haven’t been able to use their driver’s license to access the base because it is not Real ID compliant.

    They need a second form of ID, such as a Veterans Health Identification Card or a US Passport Card to satisfy the Real ID criteria to allow them access to the base and their medical services.

    Unfortunately, many veterans have not received the VA’s new health identification card.

    No veteran should be punished for bureaucratic red tape and uncertainty caused by the state or federal government, especially when it means they can’t access healthcare.

    After hearing about this problem, I proposed a bill to pay for passports for these veterans.

    Several of my colleagues on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee figured out, however, that the simplest, most affordable solution is to make sure that these veterans have valid Passport Cards that cost less than a passport.

    LD 213 is an immediate, cost-effective fix which would pay for the impacted veterans to get Passport Cards, which cost about $30 each.

    The bill will only apply to veterans in southern Maine affected by the requirement and any excess funds would be placed in an account to provide assistance to help financially struggling veterans.

    I was proud to see the bill pass unanimously in committee and through the House by a vote of 110 to 8.

    Now, the Senate has to take a final vote next week and the bill will await Governor LePage’s signature.

    From the vets at Pease Air National Guard Base to firefighters and everyday workers trying to go to work on federal bases, Maine’s inaction on Real ID is causing real problems to our families and economy.

    Prominent Republicans including Governor LePage and Congressman Bruce Poliquin have written to the Legislature stressing veterans’ access to healthcare clinics on federal bases as a core reason behind moving Maine towards Real ID compliance.

    Based on that shared concern, I’m optimistic the governor will sign LD 213 as an immediate fix until we can fully comply with Real ID.

    Finding solutions to problems like this one and doing something good to help people faced with a problem they didn’t create is exactly the kind of work that the people of Maine want from their legislators. 

    I’m encouraged by the bipartisan teamwork that has gone into this legislation so far. Let’s keep up the good work and pass this bill into law as quickly as possible for these veterans.

     

  • Family struggles with Maine's retirement system over veteran disability benefits- Rep. Berry has fix

    Wife of former Marine Patrol Officer testified in favor of a fix authored by Rep. Seth Berry

    A Brunswick woman wants to make sure that what happened to her husband and family never happens to anyone else.

    In a public hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee this week, Darcie Couture urged passage of a measure that would make sure disabled veterans who are part of the Public Employee Retirement System qualify for disability benefits if they become unable to work.

    Couture’s husband, Scott, served in the Marine Patrol for over 15 years and, during that time, experienced increasingly serious post-traumatic stress stemming from his service in Iraq. After a while he became unable to work but was denied disability retirement benefits after a particularly unpleasant hearing process even though the VA had determined that he had a service-connected disability. 

    “My concern is that if we do not address this system and change it, it will not be long before we see the death of a veteran, who is so despondent after being grilled in a room about all of his PTSD triggers that he chooses to end the struggle once and for all,” said Couture. 

    After Scott lost his final appeal, Couture eventually connected with Rep. Seth Berry, who submitted LD 521. The measure would change the law so that, in future cases, a VA determination of a service-connected disability would automatically qualify a public employee for benefits.

    Rep. Seth Berry at home in Bowdoinham, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “No family should have to go through this,” said Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “PTSD is a major issue that affects many Maine veterans. We need to come together and close this gap before anyone else falls through it.”

    The committee will schedule a work session on Berry’s bill in the coming days.

    Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island, and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.  

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Your vote will honor the service of veterans

    Much is at stake, do your part as a citizen by voting this Election Day

     Editorial by Representative John Schneck of Bangor.

    In the coming week, Americans will mark two days that are significant to our democracy: Election Day and Veterans Day. On Tuesday, millions of Americans will make their voices heard at the polls. On Friday, we honor those who served to protect our nation and our freedoms. I urge you to participate in both.

     I’m honored to be a member of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which deals with veterans issues as well as policy around elections, campaign practices and voter registration. I’m especially proud of our work this year on new laws spearheaded by Democrats that help Maine keep up with the changing needs of Maine veterans, combat homelessness and address their higher education and transportation needs.

     

    As a veteran, a state lawmaker and a citizen, it’s been wonderful to see how engaged Mainers are this election season. You can see it in the large numbers of absentee ballots requested and cast, in the debates among candidates and in the day-to-day conversations with friends and neighbors.

     

    There’s a lot at stake this year, from who we put in the White House to who’ll be on our towns’ school boards.

     

    And, of course, voters will also decide what kind of Maine Legislature we’ll have for the next two years.

     

    Those decisions will affect how we educate our children and prepare them for the working world, whether Augusta shifts costs to local property taxpayers and whether we can achieve true welfare reform that moves people out of poverty and into sustainable employment – and that creates accountability and effectiveness throughout the system.

     

    I served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and I’m proud to serve in the Legislature alongside other veterans. Among House Democrats, we have veterans of the Army, Navy and Marines, veterans who also served in the Vietnam era, a younger veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Veterans Caucus and a recipient of the Bronze Star.

     

    I know that each and every one of them wants voters to participate in our democracy.

     

    Meanwhile, some highly visible politicians are trying to cast doubt about the integrity of our election system. They’re trying to dissuade – even intimidate – voters from exercising their rights. They’re trying to undermine our American tradition of peaceful transfers of power.

     

    We’ve got to stand up against this. We’ve all got to live up to our responsibilities as citizens. So please do your part by voting this Tuesday. Your actions will honor the service of our veterans.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Penobscot Indian, WWII combat medic to meet family of fallen medic of D-day for first time

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Charles Norman Shay landed on D-day in the first wave of combat soldiers. Serving as a medic, in the famed 1st Infantry Division, he saved countless lives as he pulled his fellow soldiers from the bloody waters while bullets were streaming past him and took care of their wounds.

    “The water ran red,” said Shay, “witnesses later told me they didn’t know where I got the strength to drag so many men to shore.”

    A fellow medic, Edward Morozewicz, never made it home. Critically wounded Charles pulled him from the water, and gave him morphine.

    Since 2007 Shay has returned to where the 1st Division landed, and performs traditional Penobscot Indian ceremonies.

    “The ceremonies are my way of connecting with the spirits of the brave men that remain there. I can never forget the men who paid the ultimate price that day, especially the young men who never experienced life as it was meant to be, a wife and a family, but instead were destined to depart this life in some far-off place they had probably never heard of while growing up,” said Shay.

    There, on Omaha Beach in Normandy, he always remembers Edward as he conducts his ceremonies.

    This year he’ll meet Morozewicz’s family for the first time.

    On September 18, 2016 he plans to give them Edward’s silver star on a plaque that reads:

    “The Silver Star was presented to Edward Morozewicz posthumously for his actions to assist the wounded on June 6, 1944, above and beyond the call of duty. He paid for his devotion to duty with his life on this day.

    “Presented to his family on September 18, 2016, by Charles Norman Shay, a fellow medic of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division.”

    When professional musician Lisa Redfern heard about Shay’s life she decided to write a ballad in his honor. While visiting friends Lisa performed it for him. It was a complete surprise.

    “I was overwhelmed,” said Shay.

    Redfern performs Full Circle Fire: The Ballad of Charles Shy, on a CD, which can be purchased for $6.

    A check can be sent to Charles at: P.O Box 65, Old Town, ME  04468.

    On D-day 3,000 Allied troops died and some 9,000 were injured or went missing.

    Shay has also written a book that honors all who served, Project Omaha Beach. When Edward's sister read what Charles wrote about Edward, she invited him to visit the family.

    A follow up book is in production. 

    “My book is a journey into the past, a past that I would prefer to wipe out of my memory but this is not possible. At the very beginning on Omaha Beach, it was difficult for me to witness so much carnage and not be affected emotionally. It was necessary for me to close my mind to what I was experiencing in order for me to be effective at doing what I had been trained for. Once I had accomplished this, I was able to operate effectively and even saved a few lives,” said Shay.

    In 2007 Shay went to Washington, DC, to receive the Legion of Honor medal from French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The medal has joined the others bestowed on him, including a Silver Star and four bronze battle stars from World War II and the Korean War, in his home on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Old Town, Maine. 

    When he returned to live on the reservation 17 years ago, he worked in earnest to promote his tribe and pass on the history of his nation. Shay was instrumental in getting the reissue of a famous book by his grandfather Joseph Nicolar titled The Life and Traditions of the Red Man. The tall white-shingled tepee beside his house is a museum dedicated to Princess Watahwaso, the stage name of his late aunt, Lucy Nicolar Poolaw, who interpreted Indian music and dance.

    “I’m very proud to be a Native American, a member of the Penobscot Indian nation. I’m trying to do whatever I can to promote my Native American culture, to promote what my ancestors have done for the people of this small reservation,” he said.

     

     

     

  • Maine becomes first state to officially recognize “Veterans in the Arts” day

     

    Maine becomes first state to officially recognize “Veterans in the Arts” day

    Law designating Nov. 1 as Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day goes into effect July 29

     Maine will become the first state to recognize Nov. 1 as Veterans in the Arts and the Humanities Day when a new law designating the holiday goes into effect on Fri., July 29.

    “The United States is experiencing an epidemic of suicides among service men and women. It’s two to three times the rate of the general population,” said Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson, who sponsored and championed the measure. “Veterans’ groups are particularly recognizing art for its therapeutic value.”

    Duchesne’s bill came amidst a national movement to recognize veterans in the arts annually on Nov. 1. Several major cities have recognized Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day, including Los Angeles.

    Jay Emerson of Hudson, who founded the American Veterans Arts and Crafts Gallery, asked Duchesne to sponsor the measure.

    “This does not involve days off or fireworks. What it does do in a quiet way is salute the men and women who have given a blank check to the United States, up to and including their lives, to defend and preserve this nation,” said Emerson, a Vietnam veteran. “I believe it is a very important step in the right direction to help veterans return to their rightful place in a free society.”

    In addition to running a website that allows veterans to sell their art and crafts online, the American Veterans Arts and Crafts Gallery organizes art shows to display veterans’ art, including one at the Maine State House this past fall.

    “They’re doing all the work themselves. All they’re asking for is some helpful recognition so they can grow their ability to help other vets,” Duchesne said of Emerson’s Maine-based organization.

    At nearly 10 percent, Maine’s percentage of military veterans within the state’s population is one of the highest in the country.

    According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA medical facilities across the country incorporate creative arts into their recreation therapy programs, recognizing the role the humanities can play in recovery from service-related challenges. The department also partners with the American Legion Auxiliary to organize the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, a celebration and art show for veterans treated in the VA national health care system.

    Both the House and the Senate voted unanimously to enact Duchesne’s measure. The text of the new law is available here.

    Duchesne is serving his fifth term in the Maine House, having previously served from 2005 to 2012. He is House chair of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and a member of both the Government Oversight Committee and the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He represents Alton, Argyle, Corinth, Hudson and Milford.

     

  • Penobscot D-Day Veteran Shay, 91, to deliver speech in Normandy

    From the Maine Public Broadcasting Network

    By PATTY WIGHT •

    Charles Norman Shay recounts D-Day as a medic on the beaches of Normandy, as well as in Korea,  in his book.

    Monday will mark the 72nd anniversary of D-Day, the day that more than 160,000 Allied troops invaded the beach in Normandy, France, to fight Nazi Germany. One of the soldiers who landed there was Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot Indian and medic for the 1st U.S. Infantry Division.

    Shay, who is almost 92, will deliver a speech at a ceremony in Normandy about his experience.
    In the early hours of June 6th, 1944, Shay landed on Omaha Beach. He was almost 19 years old.

    “That was my first day in combat,” he says.

    Shay remembers the chaos of that day: the stormy sea, gunfire raining down on Allied troops, wading through chest-deep water to get to the beach.

    “The seas were red with the blood of men who were wounded or sacrificed their lives,” he says. “It was very devastating. I had to cleanse my soul, well — not cleanse my soul, but I had to think a lot about it and push what I was experiencing out of my mind so I could function the way I was trained to function.”

    Among black smoke and ear-splitting explosions, Shay pulled wounded men from the water so they wouldn’t drown. At one point, he came upon a friend and fellow medic, Edward Morocewitz.

    “When I was walking the beach on the 6th of June 1944, I found him. He was wounded, we recognized each other. There was not much I could do for him, because he had a very bad stomach wound and I could not even bandage him properly,” Shay says. “I gave him a shot of morphine, and, well, we said goodbye to each other forever, because he died.”

    He says that in his company alone, almost half of all the soldiers and seven out of nine officers were wounded or dead by noon.

    After it was over, Shay didn’t talk about it. Not until his early 80s, when he returned to Normandy in 2007. And he’s gone back almost every year since, on a kind of mission.

    “It’s my belief as an Indian that I can take up contact with my veterans that have paid the ultimate price. And they are still lost and wandering around, it is my belief, on the beaches of Omaha. And I try to take up contact with them, and let them know they’re not forgotten,” he says.

    Shay says he always makes a stop at Morocewitz’s grave to say a few words to him. This year, Shay will also give a speech at a ceremony on the anniversary of D-Day.

    “This was one of the biggest operations in military history. And it was a success. And, well, I was perhaps happy and sad to be a part of it,” he says.

    Shay, 91, is one of a dwindling number of living World War II veterans. But he says as long as he can, he’ll return to Normandy to honor the sacrifices soldiers made and keep their memories alive.

    Shay lives on Indian Island, in Maine.

  • Pingree uses her Appropriations Committee position to get programs that benefit veterans and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

     

    Committee approves Pingree requests for $75 million in spending for PNSY and directs VA to improve health care and homeless services for vets 

    Photo of US Congresswoman Chellie Piengree, by Ramona du Houx

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree used her position on the powerful House Appropriations Committee to get numerous provisions into a defense bill that will help veterans, including those seeking care in the VA, homeless female veterans, veterans who need service dogs and the families of veterans.  Pingree also was able to insure that the bill contains $75 million in funding to maintain and modernize the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

    "The men and women who have put on a uniform and served this country deserve the best health care available and the right kind of support when they make the transition back to civilian life.  But the sad truth is they don't always get that," Pingree said.  "We need to keep pushing the VA to improve programs like VA Choice and provide services to homeless vets and vets who are risk of becoming homeless."

    Pingree was able to insert language into the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act to direct the VA to provide equal treatment and assistance to homeless female veterans and their children, to hire outside contractors to improve access to the VA Choice program in underserved areas and to expand research into the use of service dogs to treat veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

     Pingree also used her position on the Committee to secure funding for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

    "The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is one of the most efficient and best run in the country. They maintain the highest standards and stay on budget and on schedule.  But to remain competitive and to protect the jobs in Kittery, we need to make sure the yard has the resources to modernize and maintain the facilities there," Pingree said. 

    Pingree was able to support the inclusion of over $75 million in the bill, including:

    • $27 million to replace a century-old medical and dental clinic;
    • $30 million to build an electrical substation and improve utilities needed to protect nuclear subs; and
    • $18 million to expand housing to accommodate Naval personnel stationed in Kittery.

    The bill was passed by the House Appropriations Committee today, but still must be taken up by the full House.

  • Maine House unanimously enacts veterans services and Guard tuition bill

    In a vote of 148-0, the House on Tuesday unanimously gave its final approval to a measure that improves services for Maine veterans and provides tuition waivers to Maine National Guard members pursuing higher education at state schools.

    “It’s been tremendously gratifying to see how the Legislature came together to improve the lives of Mainers who serve our country,” said Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, the House chair of a special veterans services commission, a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and a Marine Corps veteran who sponsored the legislation that created the commission. “If we are truly going to do right by our veterans, we need to make a long overdue investment in Bureau of Veterans’ Services so it can keep up with their changing needs.” 

    LD 1612 boosts the marketing and outreach abilities of the state Bureau of Veterans’ Services so Maine veterans will be more aware of the services available to them and be better able to make use of them. The measure makes marketing and outreach core functions of the bureau and increases resources by hiring two hiring two mobile veteran service officers and implements an electronic records management system for an agency that remains heavily dependent on paper documents.

    The bill also creates the position of homeless coordinator within the bureau who will be a member of the Statewide Council on Homelessness and directs the bureau to develop a statewide strategy to end homelessness among veterans. It also directs the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System to develop a set of best practices for helping student-veterans make the transition from military to student life. The work groups will report its findings, make its recommendations and make any request for resources to the Legislature in January 2017.

    Additionally, members of the Maine National Guard will be eligible for tuition waivers at the University of Maine and Maine Community College system under the measure.

    The veterans portions of the bill stem from the work of the Commission to Strengthen and Align the Services Provided to Maine Veterans. The tuition waiver proposal comes from LD 1343 from Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette.

    The commission found that of the estimated 140,000 veterans in Maine, less than half are enrolled with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning they are not receiving the federal health benefits and other services for which they may be eligible. The commission also found that Maine has one veterans service officer for every 20,000 veterans in the state, a ratio that is far behind that of other states. 

    LD 1612 also contains a proposal from Rep. Mick Devin, D-Damariscotta, a retired Navy commander, that provides a sales tax exemption to veterans’ organizations supporting post-traumatic stress treatment.

    The bill faces further action in the Senate.

  • Bipartisan legislative package to improve veterans’ service in Maine

     

    Bipartisan legislative package to improve veterans’ service in Maine

    A package of bills based on the work of a special commission charged with finding ways to improve the delivery of services to Maine veterans is moving through the Legislature, with the first public hearings scheduled for Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. 

    The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee has drafted five bills that address homelessness, outreach and state resources, transportation and the needs of veterans pursuing higher education. The legislation is based on the recommendations of the Commission to Strengthen and Align the Services Provided to Maine Veterans, a bipartisan group made up of lawmakers, state officials, representatives of veterans’ organizations and veterans of different ages and genders

    • LD 1611/Homelessness: Creates an interagency council with dedicated staff to coordinate and maximize existing services. The commission found that housing vouchers from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development are going unused and raised concerns that the annual count of homeless veterans may not be providing accurate numbers for Maine, particularly in rural areas. Public hearing: Monday at 10 a.m. before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, State House Room 437.

    • LD 1612/Bureau of Veterans Services: Adds marketing and outreach to the core functions of the state Bureau of Veterans’ Services in order to identify veterans in Maine and increase awareness of available services and benefits; hires two additional veteran service officer to bring their total number to nine; implements an electronic records management system. The commission found that of the estimated 140,000 veterans in Maine, less than half are enrolled with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, meaning they are not receiving the federal health benefits and other services for which they may be eligible. The commission also found that Maine has one veterans service officer for every 20,000 veterans in the state, a ratio that is far behind that of other states. Public hearing: Monday at 10 a.m. before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, State House Room 437.
    • LD 1599/Health Care Transportation: Directs the state Department of Health and Human Services to seek a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow transportation services to bring veterans to health care appointments at the Department of Veterans Affairs at Togus and affiliated community-based outpatient clinics. The commission found that while transportation services for veterans’ health care exist, they are not able to take veterans to the VA or its affiliates. Public hearing: Tuesday at 1 p.m. before the Health and Human Services Committee, Cross Building Room 209
    • LD 1602/Regional Transportation: Establishes a pilot project to provide transportation for veterans to improve access to essential programs and services. The commission found that veterans are at greater risk of unemployment, homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide than the general population, making transportation to jobs, services, health care and community activities crucial. Current transportation programs are not meeting needs, especially given the aging veteran population and the rural nature of Maine. Public hearing: Tuesday at 1 p.m. before the Transportation Committee, State House Room 126.
    • Higher Education: Campuses of the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems that have a significant number of veterans enrolled will establish veterans resource centers like the one at the University of Southern Maine to help students transitioning from military to student life. (This bill has not yet been referenced to a committee and the public hearing has not yet been scheduled.)

    “It’s great to see how so many people came together to make sure we’re serving Maine veterans to the best of our ability as a state,” said Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, the House chair of the commission, a member of the committee and a Marine Corps veteran who sponsored of the legislation that created the commission. “We’ve been sending men and women to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than 14 years now, and it’s well past time to invest in the Bureau so it can keep pace with the changing needs of Maine veterans.”

    “It was sobering to learn about the problems in veterans services. But the commission shined a light on them and the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee did stellar work to come up with solutions,” said Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, the Senate chair of the commission and the Transportation Committee. “We must ensure that the people who have given so much have exemplary resources available to them. Our state has a responsibility to fulfill this need.”

    The bipartisan commission unanimously approved the report. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee unanimously voted to send these five bills to the full Legislature.

    “If there is one issue that transcends party lines in Augusta it’s ensuring that our veterans receive the proper care they all deserve,” said Rep. Jonathan Kinney, R-Limington, a member of the commission and the House Republican lead on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “As a member of the commission and committee, I am proud of the work we have done but now we need the Legislature to take the next step and fix the problems identified in the report.”

    “We have the chance to perform a great service for Maine’s veterans. The bipartisan work of the commission and this committee have provided a great start by producing a thorough and thoughtful blueprint and a concrete legislative plan of action,” said Rep. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the House chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “I’m hopeful that the full Legislature will agree that it’s time for us to act and make a real difference in the lives of veterans.”

    “The commission’s work is to be commended. We cannot ignore the issues they raised,” said Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, the Senate chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “I’m proud of the diligence of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. If we these measures become law, they will be very helpful to veterans throughout Maine.”

  • MaineHousing offers veterans and active duty military low home rates-starting at 3.25 percent

    Maine's housing authority is offering veterans and active duty military low home loan rates starting at 3.25 percent  (4.217 percent APR, 0 points).

    The quarter-point reduction on MaineHousing’s competitive First Home Loans is in appreciation for the commitment and sacrifices made by Maine’s veterans and active duty military on behalf of Maine’s residents.

    The interest rate reduction applies for veterans and active duty military that are first-time or returning homebuyers and is in addition to the other features of MaineHousing’s First Home Loan Program, including up to $3,500 towards down payment and closing costs. A hoMEworks-approved homebuyer education class is required to receive the $3,500 in assistance.

    MaineHousing’s competitive 30-year fixed rate mortgages are available to eligible first-time or returning homebuyers with little or no down payment when combined with a government guaranty such as VA, FHA or RD. Under the First Home Loan Program, returning homebuyers must not have owned a home in the last three years. That requirement is waived for veterans and active duty military. The home must be in Maine and be the homebuyer’s primary residence. Also, the loan stays in Maine.

    In 2015, MaineHousing’s First Home Loan Program began offering first-time and returning homebuyers up to $3,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance, and 750 homebuyers purchased homes. MaineHousing’s goal is 1,000 home loans this year.

    MaineHousing’s First Home Loans are available through more than 40 partner-lenders (called Green Key Lenders) statewide. They include most major banks statewide as well as a few mortgage corporations.

    Veterans, active duty military. and interested homebuyers may learn more about the First Home Loan Program at www.mainehousing.org.

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Book about the suicide bomber attack on Maine's 133rd Battalion, and their work, should help to heal hidden wounds

    During President G.W. Bush's Iraq War a unit from Maine had to deal with a suicide bomber attack.  

    It was 11 years ago on December 21 when 22 people were killed in the attack, including two members the Jason White's unit. This is Lt. White's book about the attack and his deployment, as a 2nd Lieutenant in Maine's 133rd National Guard Engineer Battalion.

    "As a true leader, Jason understood the importance of telling his unit's story. He's built a bridge for communication that is sorely needed. ...  Many would like to express themselves better about their tour of duty but might be hesitant, not willing to risk misunderstandings. After all, where do they begin the conversation? This journal could be a great start."

    -from the introduction by Former Maine Governor John E. Baldacci.

    Journal of a 2nd Lieutenant in Iraq with the 133rd Battalion  was published in 2014, and the conversation has begun. Now their sacrifices, and the work they did with the people of Iraq will not be forgotten.

    The 133rd was deployed to build schools, bridges and buildings to help move Iraq and her people forward. They ended up doing so much more, yet there story is seldom told. Jason's book puts their record straight with stories from his personal journal.

    Hopefully the members of our armed services, and their families are beginning to heal. We owe it to them never to forget and to honor them for their service.

    "Lt. White did all of those things. He challenged incompetence, celebrated outstanding performance, and kept his eyes on the mission, even while others basked in its limelight. He understood the therapeutic value of a good cheerleader, repeatedly putting finger to keyboard to sing his company's and platoon's praises in one newsletter after another. All of this while accepting that rank and timing had conspired to deprive him of close friendships - one of the few real havens in a war zone. Lonely by his own candid admission, he nevertheless performed his duty well and with honor."

    - by Bill Nemitz writer for the Portland Press Herald, who was embeded in Iraq with Lt. White

    About Jason

    At the age of nineteen, Jason joined the US Army as an armor crewman. He served the first year of his military career in South Korea along the DMZ. After the one-year tour, he spent the next three years at Fort Carson, Colorado, and later transferred to the Maine Army National Guard (MEARNG). Jason worked at the Regional Training Institute in Augusta, Maine, as a traditional Guard soldier, where he eventually attended the Officer Candidate School and was commissioned. Shortly after commissioning, he was sent to serve as an engineer platoon leader in Iraq. Jason has served in a multitude of positions since returning from Iraq that include company commander and engineer plans officer. He retired from the MEARNG in 2014.

    In civilian life, Jason is employed as the executive director of Maine Behavioral Health Organization, a nonprofit that provides mental-health and substance-abuse services throughout Maine. Jason currently resides in Rockland, Maine, with his loving and supportive wife, Jessica, and their four children.

    This is some of the survivors of the bombings story, from an excerpt from an article in the Portland Press Herald article:

    Living with memories

    Five survivors talked to Bill Nemitz about the bombing on Dec. 21, 2004, and the two Maine soldiers killed in the explosion. Bill Nemitz and Photographer Greg Rec, were embedded with the 133rd at the time.This is from Bill's article:

     

    “I try to keep as busy as I can – with not as many people around,” said Sivret, the former chaplain for the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion. “If I keep busy, then I don’t have to think about it.”

    But today, the shortest day followed by the longest night of the year, will be different.

    On this day, Dec. 21, Sivret and hundreds like him will stop, close their eyes and travel back to Mosul, Iraq, back to the mess hall at Forward Operating Base Marez, back to the suicide bomber who in a single instant turned the week before Christmas into a living hell for anyone who bore witness to the attack and its grisly aftermath.

    The bomber, dispatched by the terrorist Army of Ansar al-Islam and disguised as an Iraqi National Guard soldier, killed 14 U.S. soldiers, four American civilians and four Iraqi soldiers. Shrapnel from his explosive vest wounded 72 others, including six soldiers from Maine.

    The massive explosion would go down as the deadliest single suicide attack on U.S. forces throughout the entire Iraq war. Its aftershocks, both physical and psychological, reverberate to this day.

    It was a Tuesday, just four days before Christmas. Holiday decorations and cheery music filled the DFAC, or dining facility, at FOB Marez as soldiers streamed in for lunch, lined up at the food stations manned by civilian contractors and then fanned out among the plastic chairs and tables that could accommodate up to 600 personnel at a time.

    Chaplain Sivret, accompanied by Maj. John Nelson, the 133rd’s chief medical officer, hungrily filled his plate with roast beef. Nelson opted for a chili cheese dog. Taking their seats about 20 feet from the food stations, Nelson dug in while Sivret lowered his head to say grace. He looked up just in time to see a bright flash directly behind his buddy.

    “This isn’t the white light they talk about, when you die,” Sivret thought to himself as he and Nelson catapulted through the air. Then everything went black.

    Staff Sgt. Harold “Butch” Freeman of Gorham had just filled his tray, grabbed his silverware and was turning to make a wisecrack to a soldier from West Virginia he recognized from lifting weights at the base gym. The next thing Freeman knew, he was flying backward as a wall of smoke and debris, seemingly in slow motion, came directly at him.

    Landing on his back, Freeman quickly did a digital inventory: One, two, three … nine, 10 fingers. One, two, three … nine, 10 toes.

    “Whew … that was close,” he told himself.

    Nearby, Freeman saw a young soldier, gravely wounded, writhing in silence on the cement floor.

    “Don’t give up,” Freeman implored the kid. “Hang on! Help is coming!”

    But it was too late. Within seconds, the young man lay still.

    Freeman tried to get up. Only then did he realize that he was awash in his own blood – the blast had shattered his right femur, ripped through his pelvis and severed an artery. He, too, was well on his way to bleeding out.

    Suddenly, Freeman’s entire squad from the 133rd’s Bravo Company – they proudly called themselves the “Black Sheep” – surrounded him. One soldier grabbed a napkin dispenser, emptied it and stuffed the napkins into the gaping hole in Freeman’s thigh. The others got hold of a litter – only weeks earlier, “Doc” Nelson had placed them strategically throughout the DFAC along with emergency first-aid kits – and carried their stricken squad leader to a triage area just outside the mess hall.

    “Mother (expletive)! You rotten bastards!” screamed Freeman at whoever had done this to him. “I’m not dying in this (expletive) hole! No way! It’s just not going to happen!”

    Back inside, Sivret regained consciousness. The blast had thrown both him and Nelson more than 20 feet through the air. Nelson, who’d already come to, had quickly checked Sivret to see that he was breathing and then moved on to help others.

    At Sivret’s side lay a soldier from another unit who, just seconds earlier, had sat quietly eating his lunch next to the chaplain. Now the soldier’s head and shoulders were covered by the tablecloth and his legs were twitching with uncontrolled spasms.

    “Oh, my God,” thought Sivret, quickly reaching over to remove the tablecloth. “We’ve got to get this guy some help.”

    But one look at the soldier’s upper torso and Sivret knew there was nothing anyone could do.

    Slowly, the spasms subsided and Sivret performed the first of what would be many last rites. He couldn’t hear his own prayers – the explosion had ruptured one of his eardrums and seriously damaged the other...

    For the entire article please go HERE.

  • BOOK: Journal of a 2nd Lieutenant in Iraq: With the 133rd Battalion

    "Lt. White did all of those things. He challenged incompetence, celebrated outstanding performance, and kept his eyes on the mission, even while others basked in its limelight. He understood the therapeutic value of a good cheerleader, repeatedly putting finger to keyboard to sing his company's and platoon's praises in one newsletter after another. All of this while accepting that rank and timing had conspired to deprive him of close friendships - one of the few real havens in a war zone. Lonely by his own candid admission, he nevertheless performed his duty well and with honor."

    - by Bill Nemitz writer for the Portland Press Herald, who was embeded in Iraq with Lt. White

    About the Author

    At the age of nineteen, Jason joined the US Army as an armor crewman. He served the first year of his military career in South Korea along the DMZ. After the one-year tour, he spent the next three years at Fort Carson, Colorado, and later transferred to the Maine Army National Guard (MEARNG). Jason worked at the Regional Training Institute in Augusta, Maine, as a traditional Guard soldier, where he eventually attended the Officer Candidate School and was commissioned. Shortly after commissioning, he was sent to serve as an engineer platoon leader in Iraq. Jason has served in a multitude of positions since returning from Iraq that include company commander and engineer plans officer. He retired from the MEARNG in 2014.

    In civilian life, Jason is employed as the executive director of Maine Behavioral Health Organization, a nonprofit that provides mental-health and substance-abuse services throughout Maine. He spearheaded the development of this organization upon completing his master's degree at the University of Southern Maine. He is currently working on his doctoral degree in leadership. Jason also serves on the School Board for the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf and Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as appointed by Governor Paul LePage. Jason currently resides in Rockland, Maine, with his loving and supportive wife, Jessica, and their four children.
  • UNE's Military Appreciation Club to rehabilitate and renovate properties for veteran families

     The Travis Mills Foundation announced that the Military Appreciation Club at the University of New England will be visiting the Maine Chance Veteran Family Retreat grounds on November 8, 2015 to help the Travis Mills Foundation further its mission to rehabilitate and renovate the property for veteran families. 
    The students will help prepare buildings for winterization, and clean up the grounds.  
    The University of New England recently created the Military Appreciation Club to celebrate diversity and promote awareness, support, camaraderie and integration between veteran and civilian students at UNE.  As a club, they aim to participate in service projects that are geared toward assisting members of the military and veterans.
    Currently, UNE has been working closely with the Undergraduate Student Government to plan an annual Veteran’s Day Ceremony that will take place right on the Biddeford campus. They have also been collecting used ink cartridges to donate to Operation Shoebox where they will be recycled for postage money to cover the costs of sending out care packages. Each member has joined for reasons meaningful and personal to them, but what they have in common is their passion for the work they are doing and will continue to do as members of the UNE Military Appreciation Club.
     
    The Maine Chance Veteran Family retreat is the vision of  retired U.S. Army SSG Travis Mills, 82nd Airborne, who was critically wounded in 2012 while serving his country on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.  Travis is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries. 
    Fundraising efforts have begun in earnest to renovate this iconic homestead. Upon completion of extensive rehabilitation, the property will become the nation’s first fully-accessible, “smart home” facility dedicated to serving the recreational and reintegration needs of combat-wounded veteran families. 
    The retreat will fill a vital role in the recovery, camaraderie, spousal support, reconnection, and relaxation for our military heroes - a true and lasting symbol of a grateful nation
    For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit www.travismills.org
  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • Rep. Davitt appeals decision on bill to boost funding for veterans programs in Maine

    Rep. Jim Davitt is appealing the Maine Legislative Council’s rejection of his bill to increase funding for programs that support Maine veterans and their families.

    “Too many veterans, service members and their families are struggling,” said Davitt, D-Hampden.  “This bill will help existing programs better serve veterans’ immediate needs. It’s an important step our state can take to help military families in need.”

    The bill would create a check-off box on the existing form Mainers use to file their income tax returns.  By checking the box, filers could choose to donate $5 or another amount, which would be dedicated to funding nonprofit veterans’ services initiatives through grants to be administered by the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services.

    “By working with organizations that already serve veterans, we can maximize the impact of these funds,” said Davitt.  “Maine is fortunate to have dedicated people working to help veterans in need, but these programs need our support to ensure that no Maine veteran goes hungry or without housing.”

    According to Maine Center for Economic Policy, more than 8,000 Maine veterans are living below poverty level.

    During even-numbered years, the Legislature generally limits bill submissions to those that address emergencies and other pressing situations. The Legislative Council, which is made up of each party’s leaders in the Maine House and Senate, decides which bills fit the criteria. 

    Of the nearly 400 bills submitted for the 2016 legislative session, 33 received the green light from the Council.  The Council will consider all appeals on Nov. 19.

    Davitt, a veteran of the U.S. Army, earned the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam.  He is serving his first term in the Maine House and represents Hampden and Newburgh.

     

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Maine law to ensure Vietnam veterans receive tax break goes into effect Oct. 15

    A new law to ensure Vietnam veterans can receive an existing veterans’ property tax exemption goes into effect Oct. 15.

    “I’m pleased the Legislature took this step to ensure veterans of the Vietnam War are treated equally to all other veterans under the law,” said Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, who sponsored the measure.  “It’s a matter of fairness to our veterans.”

    Under Maine law, veterans of recognized war periods who are either disabled or 62 years and over are eligible for the modest property tax exemption. 

    As currently written, veterans of the Vietnam War era are required to have served 180 days on active duty during a specified period to qualify for the property tax exemption.  Nadeau’s measure removes the requirement, which did not apply to veterans of any other war. 

    Nadeau proposed the measure after a constituent who served in Vietnam brought the discrepancy to her attention.  It was supported by the state chapter of the American Legion, the largest veterans’ organization in the country, which testified in favor of the bill at its public hearing in February.

    Nadeau is serving her second term in the House.  She is a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and represents Winslow and part of Benton.

  • Mike Michaud testifies in his Senate confirmation hearing and is praised

    Photo: Congressman Mike Michaud in 2013 talking about Veterans affairs in Congress.

    Former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud told Senators on the panel that there are a host of problems many veterans face as they transition from active duty to civilian life, and getting a job and starting a career are among the most important.

    "One of my goals if I am confirmed by the Senate is to look at having a short-term plan and a long-term plan, to start addressing some of these situations and to take into consideration some things that are beyond our control," said Michaud at his confirmation hearing to be the assistant secretary of labor for the Veterans' Employment and Training Service.

    Senators on the Veterans Affairs Committee sited Michaud’s record working for veterans’ issues since he was elected to Congress. It was evident Michaud is well qualified for the job.

    "This is a good Maine man," said U.S. Sen. Angus King. "And we have a saying in Maine that if somebody is pretty good they are referred to as finest kind. And the people on the coast of Maine would say Mike Michaud is finest kind."

    Michaud headed the House Veterans Affairs Committee his last year in Congress.

    "Your experience on the committee is outstanding, your contribution has been outstanding," said Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson to Michaud as he testified. Isakson chairs the confirmation-hearing panel. "I had the privilege of serving a short time in the House with you. As I told you in privacy, I knew from the minute I met you I was not only impressed with your intellect, but your commitment to the job."

    The committee is expected to vote soon on the nomination and if confirmed a vote in the US Senate will follow

  • Lewiston State House Delegation urges action to fill vacant Veteran Center positions

    Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    State lawmakers from Lewiston have sent a letter to their U.S. Congressional delegation, urging action to fill critical counseling positions at the Lewiston Veteran Center. 

    According to a Sun Journal report, the center is operating with less than half its authorized counseling staff, and has been without a team leader for two years, despite the previous leader giving seven months of notice before leaving. 

    "Failure to fill these positions with competent, qualified individuals is a serious health and safety concern for our veterans, not to mention a great disservice to those who deserve the benefits they have earned," the Lewiston lawmakers wrote. 

    Maine Sen. Nate Libby and Reps. Peggy Rotundo, Michel Lajoie, Heidi Brooks and Jared Golden all signed the letters, which were sent to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. The state lawmakers urged the congressional delegation to “work with all expediency and effort to bring the VA Administration's focused attention to our Veteran Center's serious staffing deficiencies,” and respectfully asked for periodic updates on this important issue.

    The Veteran Center provides several services, including counseling for combat veterans and their families, as well as counseling for victims of military sexual trauma and grief counseling for family members of service men and women killed in action. 

  • Houses passes Congresswoman Pingree’s Ruth Moore Act of 2015

    Bill pushes Department of Veterans to make it easier for survivors of military sexual assault to receive disability benefits

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree applauded tonight’s unanimous House passage of H.R. 1607—the Ruth Moore Act of 2015—a bill she introduced earlier this year to make it easier for veterans who were sexually assaulted during their service to receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

    “Since starting to work on this issue, not a day goes by that I don’t hear from another veteran who has struggled to get the benefits they need and deserve.  These veterans face multiple injustices—the first in the sexual assaults they suffered during their service and the second in the many roadblocks they face in receiving benefits,” said Pingree.  “Tonight’s vote is a crucial step in holding the VA accountable and pushing them to make needed changes to help these veterans.”  

    Pingree first introduced the Ruth Moore Act in 2013.  The bill was passed in the House, but was not voted on in theSenate.  

    The bill is named after Ruth Moore, a veteran from Maine who was raped twice after enlisting in the Navy at age 18.  Moore reported the attacks, but the attacker was never charged or disciplined.  Moore was labeled as suffering from mental illness and discharged from the Navy.  She then fought for over twenty years before she was finally awarded the veterans benefits she deserved.  Last year, the VA acknowledged making a "clear and unmistakable error" in denying her veterans benefits in 1993 and agreed to pay her back benefits owed to her.

    “Ruth’s story is horrific, and there are many more out there just like hers.  Despite the Department of Defense stepping up prevention efforts, 19,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military last year. Only a quarter of cases were reported and a recent survey found that over 60 percent of those who did report sexual assault or harassment faced retaliation,” said Pingree. “The VA needs to acknowledge this reality by lowering the evidentiary roadblocks MST survivors face in applying for benefits.  Passage of this bill pushes them in that direction and I will continue fighting until the agency makes those changes.” 

    As amended by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, the legislation the House passed tonight would require the VA to report annually on a number of aspects concerning MST claims, including how many it received, how many were denied, the most common reasons for denial, and how long they took to process.  It also includes a Sense of Congress that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should update and improve the regulations of the Department of Veterans Affairs with respect to military sexual trauma.”

  • Maine proposed bond to help homeless veterans live in homes they help build earns public support

    Homelessness among Maine veterans continues to be a serious problem that Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, finds unacceptable.

    “One homeless veteran is one too many,” said Golden. “These men and women risked their lives for us, and they deserve to have every opportunity to succeed when they get out of the service.”

    The Lewiston lawmaker, who served in the Marine Corps in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has spent his first year in office working for better services to get veterans in need back on their feet. 

    Dozens of veterans’ advocates joined him before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee Friday to support a $4 million bond bill to help veterans get the housing they need.

    Matthew Jabaut, a resident of Lewiston and member of the American Legion spoke on behalf of the project.

    “This proposal would provide funding and support to some of our state’s veterans most in need,” Jabaut said.  “It is a great investment for the Legislature and people of Maine to help veterans by saying thank you for your service in a meaningful way.”

    The bond would invest in housing for homeless veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center – Togus in Augusta.  The project, called Cabin in the Woods, provides easy access to other services, such as health care and employment training that veterans need to get back on the path to success.

    According to the website veterans would also be able to help build the cabins they could call home.

    “We have an organization that runs housing programs around the state working with Togus to develop a detailed plan for this housing,” Golden said. “Providing housing for homeless veterans should be a top priority for the state and I am confident that the voters of this state would agree.”

    Golden cited a recent homeless veterans’ conference held in Maine, when it was estimated that there is a need for at least 29 supported housing units for homeless veterans. 

    “My proposal would fund 21 of those units,” Golden said. “It’s a rather modest bond proposal, but it would have a great impact upon the lives of many.”

    The Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will give its recommendation on LD 873 in the coming weeks.

    Golden is serving his first term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston. He serves on both the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and the Transportation Committee.   

  • On Memorial Day for all veterans: Thank you for our freedom

    Arlington Cemetary photo by Frank Glick

    Please give thanks to our service men and women who defend us everyday and keep our freedoms alive.

    So many have fought for our democracy. So many gave their lives for us. Take the time today and think about their sacrifices. Take a look around yourself thinking of them—knowing they’ve helped preserve our way of life.

    The National Moment of Remembrance was established as an act of Congress that asks Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day.

    Being at a mall is no way to spend Memorial Day. Find the true reason we designate a day for remembrance and thanks.

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • Rep. Davitt sponsors proposed law to support Maine veterans

    Veterans, military family members and veterans’ services professionals testified before a legislative panel Friday in support of a measure that would bolster programs that support Maine veterans and their families.

    “This bill will help existing programs better serve veterans’ immediate needs,” said Rep. Jim Davitt, sponsor of the bill and a Vietnam veteran.  “Too many veterans, service members and their families are struggling.  This is a step we can take to help military families in need.”

    The bill would create a check-off box on the existing form Mainers use to apply for or renew a driver’s license.  By checking the box, drivers could choose to donate $2 or another amount, which would be dedicated to funding nonprofit veterans’ services initiatives through grants to be administered by the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services.

    “There is much we owe to those who served and suffered, and this legislation is an attempt to assuage the burdens they carry,” Davitt said in his remarks to the committee.

    The measure has the support of the Bureau of Veterans’ Services.  Peter Ogden, director of the bureau, spoke in support of the measure.

    “As the director of Veterans’ Services, I can tell you there is a definite need to assist many veterans who are homeless, about to become homeless or suffering from a catastrophic illness,” said Ogden.

    Easter Seals Maine Executive Director Gail Wilkerson, whose organization expects to serve at least 300 veterans, military personnel and their families this year through its Veterans Count program, also spoke in support.

    “I want to thank Rep. Davitt for his military service and for sponsoring this bill,” said Wilkerson.  “With his help, we can raise awareness and financial support to ensure veterans and their families can access services that ensure their dignity, health and overall well-being.” 

    According to the Department of the Secretary of State, a similar initiative passed into law in 2013 has raised more than $50,000 to raise awareness of organ donation.  Davitt hopes his measure will be a similar boost for programs that help Maine veterans.

    The Transportation Committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks before making a recommendation to the full Legislature.

    Davitt, a veteran of the U.S. Army, earned the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam.  He is serving his first term in the Maine House and represents Hampden and Newburgh.

  • Rep. Devin’s bill to help Maine veterans access their benefits draws support

     

    A bill by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, making it easier for Maine’s veterans to access benefits earned through their military service earned support at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee Thursday.  

     The measure, LD 333, would require that driver’s licenses and other state-issued ID cards have the word “veteran” included on the portion of the card that describes military status. 

     “This is a small, simple way we can make it easier for veterans to provide crystal clear proof of their service,” said Devin. “The idea is to prevent any problems when veterans try to access the benefits they have earned, whether that means state-funded benefits or just getting a discount at a store or a restaurant.”  

    Currently, licenses indicate veteran status with a backdrop displaying a field of stars in the photo portion. Devin submitted the bill after receiving complaints from veterans who were denied benefits by people who did not understand the significance of the stars.  

    Among those testifying in support was Linda Grant from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, who acknowledged the potential for confusion and told lawmakers that her department could find ways to start changing licenses without additional cost to taxpayers.

    The Transportation Committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming days before making a recommendation to the full Legislature.

    Devin served in the Navy and co-chairs the Legislature’s Veteran’s Caucus. He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol and Monhegan Plantation.

  • PUC gives in to LePage, reverses wind energy contracts

    Kibby Wind Farm, in Western Maine, opened in 2010 and has given thousands back to the communities it serves with programs and TIFF's- tax incentives.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Top Maine lawmakers in the State House denounced the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state's energy regulator that is mandated not to make political decisions,  for caving to Governor Paul LePage’s demands to reopen bids on two approved wind contracts. 

    The three-member commission, which is supposed to be independent, reversed its decision in a 2-1 vote. The PUC previously approved contract terms with SunEdison and NextEra for wind projects in Hancock County and Somerset County. That approval allowed the parties to begin negotiating final contracts with Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine. A lot of work they never would have undertaken if they new LePage was going to pull the plug on. The contracts, which were approved two months ago, would have helped to lower electric costs for Maine consumers by $69 million and create jobs.

    “The Public Utilities Commission is meant to serve the public’s interest – not the governor’s ideology. Maine should be open for all businesses – not just the businesses the governor favors,” said House Speaker Mark Eves. “He is throwing away real energy savings and jobs that Maine needs. Just as we saw when he meddled with StatOil, he is putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment in our state at risk.”

    Newly appointed PUC Commissioner Carlie McLean - former legal counsel to LePage  - joined the Commission’s Chair and LePage appointee Mark Vannoy to reverse the decision. Commissioner David Littell voted against the re-opening the bid.

    “I’m disappointed to see Commissioner McLean overturn a decision with so little evidence and put future energy business contracts in jeopardy,” said Mark Dion, House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee. “This creates an unpredictable environment for future business contracts.”

    According to a letter from LePage to the Commission obtained by MPBN,  LePage attempted to persuade the commissioners to ignore language in the law that directs them to consider new renewable energy sources.

    LePage wrote, "I request that you expand your current request for proposals to include any clean resource, including existing hydropower and nuclear, and review whether these potential contracts could have benefits for the ratepayers in Maine and our broader economy." 

    Nearly 50 individuals and businesses submitted comments warning that re-opening the bid would create economic uncertainty.

    “Shame on the PUC and Gov. LePage for once again yanking the welcome mat out from under two substantial businesses. Broken promises like these do nothing to reassure business that their capital is welcome here. In fact, decisions like these tarnish our reputation and scare off future opportunities,” said State Senator Dawn HIll.

     Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine took its investments overseas to Scotland, because LePage pushed through legislation that took away a contract Statoil had made with the PUC.

  • Ramona du Houx exhibits lightgraphs at Berry’s in Waterville, Maine

     

    By Morgan Rogers

     

    The inside gallery at Berry's Stationers 153 Main St, downtown Waterville, features the artwork, Ramona du Houx, until December 30, 2014. 

    Ramona du Houx creates fine art photography that looks like watercolor paintings evoking mystery and a sense of wonder. Many find them nostalgic and some mystical.

    Ramona is currently represented by Gallery Storks of Tokyo, Japan and is also a member of the Maine Artist Collaborative where she exhibits regularly at the Constellation Gallery in Portland, Maine.

     “For me art reflects where we live in our communities, as well as where an artist is in their heart, mind and soul,” said Ramona. “In 1979 I began to paint with my camera to depict the interconnectedness of nature. I took the initial results to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where they recorded them long ago. The continuing results have been unpredictable, intriguing, and thought provoking.” 

    The watercolor technique is always a challenge.

    “I never know exactly what the results will be, that’s the exciting part of the creation,” said du Houx. “I believe every photograph has an audience, someone the work will speak to personally.”

    Berry’s show space offers local artists a friendly venue to exhibit their work and a way to continue to grow Waterville’s creative economy. With Colby College’s new museum, and Common Street Arts, Waterville is gaining attention as a place to visit for art.

    “We believe in our community and holding shows for artists can help grow the creative economy of Waterville,” said Michael, owner of Berry's Stationers.

    Dream Sail by Ramona du Houx

    Customers rely on the quality work of the Berry's Stationers art suppliers and framers. They entrust the craftspeople who work there with precious mementos to create a unique way to display it for their lifetimes.

    Berry's Stationers team matches mat colors and frames for any job they work on and they always take the time to listen to customers to ensure they get what they are looking for. Michael bought the business back in the 70’s. He’s a perfectionist in his framing craft and an avid photographer.

    "Matching up someone’s art with the right mat and frame gives me a lot of pleasure. Finding out exactly what the customer needs and then succeeding makes it so worthwhile,” said Michael. 

    While other framers have closed their doors due to big box stores and chains, The Berry's Stationers continues. The quality customer service and extra care he and his father take in framing creates prized items for many people.

    Berry's Stationers is open Monday thru Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm. And Saturday from 9:00-3.00pm. And until Christmas they are open on Sundays.

    For more of Ramona’s photography please visit: HERE 

     

  • First Circuit Court determines young adults remain covered under ACA in Maine

    The state of Maine must provide Medicaid coverage to several thousand low income 19- and-20-year-old young adults according to a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. 

    "We deny the petition for review and find no constitutional violation," wrote the Court in it’s determination.

    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills agreed that the federal government's action was appropriate.

    Maine tried to drop the young adult coverage in 2012, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services disapproved. That’s when the state petitioned for review on constitutional grounds.

    The First Circuit found that a state's ability to set conditions of eligibility for participation in a federal health insurance program is "not a core sovereign state function."

    Furthermore the federal Health and Human Services Secretary said that the state was a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires states accepting Medicaid funds to maintain their eligibility standards for children until 2019. 

    "Maine has covered these young adults for over 20 years, and dropping the coverage now clearly violates the provisions of the AffordableCare Act," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "This is good news for thousands of low-income 19- and 20-year olds who faced theloss of health care coverage." 

    Pingree wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius in 2012 urging the rejection of the state's waiver, saying "elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and wellbeing of Maine residents and upset Maine’s local economies, it would also be in direct violation of the maintenance of effort requirement, even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling."

  • President Obama signs bipartisan Veterans Affairs Bill into Law

    The U.S. Capitol at dawn on President Obama's 2012 Inagural Day. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    President Obama signed into law today bipartisan legislation that will address many of the immediate systemic problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to finalize the legislation late last month.

    The new law takes steps to ensure veterans receive care in a timely fashion, and also strengthens accountability and transparency within the Department. It includes a number of provisions from Michaud to benefit veterans in Maine and across the nation. Michaud, who serves as Ranking Member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, commented:

    “Today represents an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The signing of this bipartisan legislation into law is, by no means, the end of this journey. In fact, it’s just the beginning. “Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on implementing a wide range of reforms within the VA. Veterans deserve timely and high-quality benefits and services. We must change the culture at the VA to one where the needs of veterans are met directly and in a timely manner - and where employees are motivated to always do the right thing. A big part of getting there means increasing accountability and transparency across the Department, and having an assessment of whether VA’s current structure allows it to meet the needs of veterans. I look forward to working with Secretary McDonald over the long-term on achieving a stronger, more veteran-focused VA.”

    Several of Michaud’s provisions are included in the new law, including a renewal of Project ARCH that Michaud secured. Without Congressional action, ARCH would have expired at the end of next month. Michaud originally included a provision bringing ARCH to Maine in a 2008 bill he helped pass, and Project ARCH went into effect at Cary Medical Center, in Caribou, in 2011.

    Through ARCH, Carey has enrolled approximately 1,400 veterans who have had more than 3,000 consults. Kris Doody, CEO of Cary Medical Center, estimated in testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in June that travel costs alone for veterans utilizing ARCH to travel to Togus for appointments would have exceeded $600,000.

    The legislation also includes provisions making it easier for the Secretary to take action against senior employees for poor performance and misconduct. The provisions Michaud included in the final bill are based off of previous legislation he introduced, which expands accountability measures to Title 38 employees across the VA. Some of the officials involved in wrongdoing at Phoenix and in other locations were Title 38 employees.

    “I’m proud that this legislation addresses the most immediate problems facing the VA, and that it includes a renewal of Project ARCH – which is so critical to veterans, particularly in Northern Maine, getting access to healthcare closer to home. We arrived here today because we set aside our political differences and put the needs of veterans first. That’s how you get things done,” added Michaud. “I know we’ll see that same bipartisan commitment moving forward, as we begin the task of truly reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

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