TOGUS — The VA Maine Healthcare System aspires to providing world-renowned health care for veterans, and Ryan Lilly is just the man to help do that.

That was the message Thursday from politicians and veterans officials as Lilly was officially recognized as the new center director at Togus during an assumption of duties ceremony.

“This can be one of the best hospitals not only in the VA, but one of the best hospitals in the nation and the world,” said Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith, network director for VA New England Healthcare System. “I’m confident Ryan’s going to lead us to great things.”

Lilly, 37, was appointed in August 2012 as center director in charge of the VA Maine Healthcare System, which includes Maine VA Medical Center at Togus as well as clinics and vet centers 10 communities across the state.

Lilly, who grew up in Maine, served in various VA positions in Colorado and Vermont, and was named associate director at Togus in June 2006.

“In many ways this is my dream job,” Lilly said.

Lilly took over the center director position from Brian Stiller, who served at Togus for more than four years before leaving to take a similar position in western New York. Center director transfers have typically occurred without public recognition, but Mayo-Smith decided to hold a ceremony for every director appointment during the past year, said Togus spokesman James Doherty.

The ceremony, similar to a military change of command, is just the second to occur in New England.

Attending the ceremony were Maine’s congregational delegation, including U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, Democrats, and Sen. Angus King, an independent, and a representative of Republican Sen. Susan Collins, as well as Brig. Gen. James Campbell, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony, mainly Togus employees and veterans.

“We consistently talk around the country about how great this facility is,” Campbell said. “We’re very fortunate to have this gem.”

Collins’ representative Chuck Mahaleris said Lilly has been a part of notable facility and program upgrades at Togus, including the creation of a hospice center.

“Ryan has been there through that process and knows the direction to take this facility,” Mahaleris said.

Michaud, ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called for expanded health care access for veterans and said Lilly shared that vision.

“We must remind our fellow Americans what (the veterans) have done. We must keep their stories out there,” Michaud said. Lilly “will not let the people here forget what they have done.”

Lilly urged VA employees to see themselves as enforcers of a contract to care for the men and women who have served their nation.

“Nothing we do can fully repay this debt,” Lilly said. “But for the veterans in the audience today, please know that this is your system and I will demand excellence of that system.”

Lilly, while referencing on the center’s past, looked to a future that he said holds potential for breakthroughs that are both within sight and some that can only be imagined.

“Most importantly, can you imagine a world where the VA Maine Health Care System is a leader in driving these breakthroughs?” Lilly asked. “I can.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
ccrosby@centralmaine.com