ROME — At the spring open house at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat Sunday, U.S. Sen. Angus King defended a Senate colleague who is being sharply criticized by President Trump.

On Saturday, Trump called on Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to resign after Tester released a series of allegations that led to Ronny Jackson withdrawing his name last week from consideration to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Among the allegations were that Jackson, a Navy rear admiral and the White House physician, drank on the job and improperly prescribed and dispensed medications.

“What happened this time was really unfortunate,” King said, “but it’s not typical. Tester, who is getting all this flak, I checked, voted for 14 of Trump’s nominees to the VA, he voted for Dr. Shulkin, and he voted for and supported seven or eight bills the president has signed on veterans’ matters. He’s not an anti-Trump guy. He just got these reports from military people and he couldn’t sweep them under the rug.”

Trump fired David Shulkin, who had served as Veterans Affairs secretary, in March.

King said he hopes Trump’s next nominee will have the management skills and experience to run the second largest department in federal government.

But national affairs were not center stage Sunday — that role belonged to Mills, who spent the afternoon meeting and talking with visitors, signing books and standing with them for photos on the front lawn of the Travis Mills Foundation’s retreat.

With the energy of a showman, Mills joked and flirted and at one point announced the birthday of a veteran named Tom, leading the people assembled in an enthusiastic and off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday to You.”

The retreat for wounded veterans and their families, opened last summer. It includes a handicapped accessible lodge, lake access, kayaks, bicycles, paddle boards, a movie theater, a children’s play space and other amenities.

Mills, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, lost all four of his limbs after surviving an explosion in Afghanistan. He started his foundation to raise money for wounded veterans.

For Leo and Chris Deon of Farmington, Sunday’s event was a chance to see the veterans’ retreat, the former Elizabeth Arden estate perched on a hill overlooking Long Pond in northwestern Kennebec County.

Leo Deon, retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 21 years, is now a consultant at the Maine Career Center and a veteran’s representative, has seen Mills at several veterans’ events and wanted to come out and support him.

“We wanted to get some information possibly to volunteer,” Chris Deon said.

If they follow through, they will join the ranks of volunteers that contribute to running the retreat — everything from groundskeeping and housekeeping to running programs for the veterans and selling merchandise.

“They are the life blood of what makes us work. We need everything to make a traditional home operate,” foundation executive director Brandy Cain, said.

The foundation has more than 300 volunteers, including some that travel from other states to spend a few days helping out.

“We’re kind of like a duck on the water, paddling underneath and smooth on top,” Cain said.

For Barbara McCosh, who just relocated to Rome from Manchester, New Hampshire, has been watching the progress at the retreat and has been following Mills on social media and on television, and she was looking forward to meeting him.

“I am really looking forward to it,” she said. “I just think he’s inspiring.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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