Members of Maine’s congressional delegation have expressed concern about allegations of shortcuts in mental health care in the VA Maine Healthcare System following the disclosure that federal officials are investigating.

Even so, a pair of veterans’ advocates say they haven’t yet heard from affected patients in the days after a Kennebec Journal story on the allegations.

In late October, officials from the Office of the Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs visited Togus after U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, an outgoing Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, requested an inspection of mental health services. Nearly 10,000 veterans receive those services in Maine.

The claims link Togus to a nationwide VA scandal earlier this year that stemmed from an allegedly secret waiting list and other issues at VA hospitals in Phoenix and elsewhere.

“If the outcome of this investigation points to any shortcomings whatsoever, there will be clear next steps for what Togus must do to improve,” Michaud said in a statement.

Among the allegations was a claim that officials left out information from patient files about mental illnesses — which could have stemmed from combat and needed treatment — allegedly to tamp down the number of veterans seeking care at centers across Maine, according to a memo from the inspector general’s office, which was obtained from Togus and reported by the Kennebec Journal earlier this month.


The document also says Togus officials may have used scheduling ploys that masked the true amount of time that patients waited for appointments. The inspector general’s report isn’t done yet, and Michaud’s office hasn’t said who made the complaints, but they match concerns held by current and former Togus employees who have spoken with the newspaper recently but haven’t been willing to speak publicly.

Ryan Lilly, director of the statewide system run from Togus, a federal campus outside Augusta, has said he hasn’t seen evidence that the alleged problems affected veteran care. Meanwhile, two advocates, Ronald Smith, of Glenburn, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Maine, and John Hargreaves, of Farmingdale, a national executive committee member for the American Legion, have said they haven’t heard individual complaints.

Lilly admitted to a morale problem among mental health employees in Maine, which he blamed partly on fluctuating staff numbers over the past few years. He said staff went from 80 in 2012 to 72 in 2013 and to 79 now, with 10 vacancies.

Maine’s two U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, sent a letter last week to Lilly that expressed concern about the allegations and requested information about Togus’ efforts to fill the vacancies, saying they “fully support” the inspector general’s review and “look forward to closely reviewing” the report when it’s done.

“These allegations are very concerning, as is the high number of staff vacancies in the Togus mental health system,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, in a statement. “And, while so much good work is being done at Togus, if it is found that anyone has initiated inappropriate scheduling practices and workarounds to improve scores on VA metrics, then there needs to be accountability.”

In January, Michaud, the lead Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs who ran unsuccessfully for governor this year, will be replaced in Congress by Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin, a Republican.


When he takes office, Poliquin “will thoroughly review any alleged problems with federal agencies brought to his attention,” said Matthew Hutson, a spokesman for Poliquin. Hutson added that the congressman-elect is “committed to doing everything possible” to ensure that veterans get “the health care, including mental health services, they earned, were promised and deserve.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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