TOGUS — An 83-year-old veteran of the U.S. Marines who has been coming to the Togus medical center for the past 45 years cut the ceremonial ribbon for a new women’s clinic on Monday.

While sitting in one of the clinic’s four exam rooms, Ruby Gilmore, of Augusta, said she was impressed with the new wing, but what she values most is the care and comradeship from the nurses at VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus.

“In the church, we call it fellowship, but the friendship of the nurses is absolutely remarkable,” she said. “They take the time for so many people, for all of us that come through.”

The number of women served by Togus and other VA hospitals has been increasing, and the director of Maine’s VA health care system expects it to continue to grow with the female veterans returning from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Around six to seven percent of the country’s veterans are women, said Ryan S. Lilly, Maine VA health care system director. But women on active duty make up about 14 percent of the U.S. military, including 18 percent of the National Guard, Lilly said.

“That 6 or 7 percent we take care of in Maine will continue to grow over the years. This new space gives us enough space to do that in a state-of-the-art way,” he said at the ribbon cutting ceremony in front of the new clinic that opened last month.


The VA system in Maine serves about 2,200 women, and about half of those veterans use the Togus hospital for their primary care, Lilly said. The clinic also has mental health services, obstetrics and gynecology and military sexual trauma counseling.

A separate clinic for female veterans is important because the VA system is still combating a stigma that women who didn’t serve in combat or served in supporting roles aren’t real veterans, Lilly said after the ceremony. He said the Maine system includes a focus on services for women at outreach events to encourage women to enroll in VA health care.

“Female veterans often have had a different experience in their military from their male counterparts,” Lilly said. “They haven’t always been treated well, frankly. One of the things that’s important to them when they come to a VA facility is to be treated with respect and to have a private space they go to.”

Togus has had a women’s clinic since 1998 on the fifth floor of the main hospital building, said Women Veterans Program Manager LaRhonda Harris. She said male veterans are not always welcoming to the female veterans, sometimes assuming the women are wives or sisters of veterans.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, along with representatives of U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, spoke at Monday’s ceremony.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, the majority owner of the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald.


Both Collins and Michaud mentioned the recent Department of Veterans Affairs scandal over the long wait times for veterans, particularly at a Phoenix hospital where veterans were put on a secret waiting list. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned a month ago as a result of the scandal.

However, they said the VA hospital at Togus provides good care for veterans. Togus ranked second-best in the nation at keeping disability claim backlogs down, according to federal data compiled by McClatchy newspapers.

The $2.2 million new clinic is on the first floor of a different building with a private entrance and double the number of exam rooms. Each of the four exam rooms also include its own bathroom to allow patients to change clothes without going into a different room out in the hallway.

The clinic is also equipped with wireless Internet to allow different staff members to bring their laptops into the rooms and not force the patients to go to different rooms themselves, Harris said.

Another veteran at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Kimberly Mullen, 34, of Augusta, said she likes the new clinic. Besides being more aesthetically pleasing that the one on the fifth floor of the hospital building, the clinic is easier to get to and less cramped, she said.

Mullen, who had her 4-month-old daughter with her, said the VA system helped provide her maternity care for her recent pregnancy.


“I don’t know how I would have done it without them,” she said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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