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  • 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.

     

  • 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.   

  • 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.