The federal Department of Veterans Affairs is adding three new positions in Maine to help veterans involved in court issues.

The positions, announced Tuesday morning in Portland by the department’s deputy secretary, Tom Bowman, include an outreach specialist to connect the department with veterans, a re-entry specialist to help veterans make the transition after serving time in jail, and a suicide prevention coordinator.

The goal is to help veterans dealing with homelessness, mental illness or substance abuse avoid criminal behavior by connecting them with services they need to deal with the court system and by working with law enforcement and the courts on veterans’ cases.

The positions were also announced by the office of U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who this year called for the department to add staff in Maine.

“These new positions in Maine provide veterans with expanded access to specialists so they can get the treatments and services they need,” King said in a statement issued by his office. “With the VA’s announcement today, we have taken an important step to strengthen our community and better care for veterans across the state.”

The rest of the state’s congressional delegation also applauded the additional staffing.

“Tragically, too many of our veterans face extraordinary mental and health challenges when they return from service,” said U.S. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, called the high rate of suicide among veterans “one of the most heartbreaking issues our country faces.”

Adria O. Horn, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, said the new positions will greatly increase the ability of state and federal veterans’ agencies to reach the state’s 117,000 veterans.

For instance, she said, the addition of another outreach specialist will allow the VA to divide the state into two regions, allowing them to reach more veterans and help connect them with services they need. She also said that the state currently has only one suicide prevention coordinator, along with another agency worker who splits time in that position, so an additional worker in that area will also help.

Horn said the re-entry position is critical because veterans who are convicted of crimes lose their benefits if they serve more than 60 days in jail. The DVA position will allow the department to work with those veterans to try to regain those benefits and access veterans’ services, Horn said.

“The first 48 hours (following release from jail) is make-or-break time,” Horn said.

Bowman’s announcement came during a daylong symposium, sponsored by the department, focused on preventing suicide by veterans. The symposium will address issues such as barriers to care and accessing resources offered by the VA and community agencies.

Horn said that in 2014, 55 veterans in Maine committed suicide, but only six had been in contact with state or federal veterans officials beforehand. Having more DVA specialists could help agencies identify those veterans, she said, and they may be able to help prevent suicides through early intervention.

She said the 2014 figures represent the most recent data available.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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