Frustrated that Maine veterans with serious mental health issues have to travel hundreds of miles to get inpatient treatment, U.S. Rep. Jared Golden is pushing to get them help.

The first-term Lewiston Democrat said Thursday he would like to see an inpatient unit at the Togus VA Medical Center to serve people closer to home.

“It’s important to have this in Maine,” Golden said.

The lawmaker convinced his House colleagues to add $20 million for long-term mental health care for veterans into an appropriations measure passed Thursday.

That’s four times as much as an initial allocation he secured last year for the program.

Golden, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in combat as a U.S. Marine, has sought since his days as a lawmaker in Augusta to focus both attention and cash on programs to help veterans overcome the hidden injuries of wartime service.

On the House floor, Golden called it unacceptable that Maine veterans can’t get residential treatment at the Togus VA Medical Center.

He said a 24-bed unit to provide long-term treatment for veterans with mental health and substance abuse disorder issues has been proposed. Golden said the VA has acknowledged the need for one.

But until it is approved, Golden said, “veterans in Maine have few options.”

The legislator, who is running for reelection against Republican Dale Crafts of Lisbon to represent Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said the House bill directs the Veterans Administration “to prioritize construction that expands access to overnight bed space for veterans seeking mental health care.”

The committee chairman who endorsed spending, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, praised Golden’s “tireless advocacy” on the issue.

Golden said the entire Maine delegation has pressed the VA to take action to help veterans in the state who need more treatment closer to home.

Golden, who served in the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, said it has long bothered him that Maine veterans who need inpatient mental health care have to travel to Veterans Administration facilities in Massachusetts because there are no long-term beds in Maine.

“This was the very first issue I heard about from veterans,” he said, when he first ran for a state House seat in 2014. It’s one he’s been trying to resolve ever since, he said.

About a third of the more than 1.7 million military personnel who have served since 2001 in support of operations have some sort of PTSD, depression or traumatic brain injury, according to a study by the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research.


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