WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine won the support of his Democratic peers Wednesday morning to take over the party’s top spot on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Michaud’s election as the ranking minority member means he will have significant influence over the agenda on the committee that oversees the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and handles issues affecting the nation’s military personnel.

Michaud will fill the post immediately, rather than after the next Congress is seated in January, because the previous ranking member has resigned from Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the new ranking committee members during a news conference Wednesday morning.

Michaud said he was humbled by the vote of confidence.

“I’m very excited to be in this position,” Michaud said in an interview after the announcement. “We’ve done a lot over the last several years as far as providing adequate funding for the VA, providing new programs for the VA as well as improving on the existing programs that are currently there. But there is a lot more work that has to be done.”

Michaud has served on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee since his first year in Congress, 2003. Ranking minority members are often — although not always — the first in line to assume the chairmanship of a committee if their party subsequently gains control of a chamber.

Although the Millinocket-area native did not serve in the military, Michaud has made veterans’ issues a top priority during his tenure due to the disproportionately high number of veterans who live in Maine. Michaud is well respected among VA officials and advocacy groups for veterans.

“A huge portion of Maine’s population are veterans or their family members, and I think it is important that they get their health care needs (met),” Michaud said. “I think that sometimes people tend to feel that if it’s just a veterans issue that vets are the only ones who it affects. But it affects society as a whole.”

He will serve alongside Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who congratulated Michaud and called him “an invaluable member and colleague.”

“Mike has been a vocal advocate for America’s veterans and their families, and has been instrumental in the passage of several pieces of major legislation to uphold benefits earned through service to our nation,” Miller said in a statement. “Mike has also been a leader, ensuring the Department of Veterans Affairs provides the best healthcare available.”

Michaud predicted that, under his and Miller’s leadership, the committee will continue to focus on pressuring the VA to address the backlog of benefits claims by veterans as well as to improve health care programs for veterans.

Other priorities on Michaud’s list include working with the VA to address the problem of homeless veterans, ensuring that the military and the VA improve their handling of sexual abuse cases and working to expand access to health care for veterans living in rural areas.

Michaud was among 22 Democratic House members elected as ranking members of their respective committees on Wednesday on the recommendation of House leaders. Michaud and Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the incoming ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, are the only two New Englanders on the list.

Pelosi noted during the Capitol news conference that roughly one-half of the ranking members were either minorities or women. Republican leaders have been criticized for initially selecting an all-male, all-white cast for committee chairs, although a woman has since been added to the list.

“Our caucus looks like America and so do our ranking members,” Pelosi told reporters.

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

[email protected]

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