Although I’m not a veteran, I was very pleased to read in this newspaper a report by Steve Collins that the Department of Veterans Affairs will build a 24-bed facility at Togus for those with mental health and substance abuse issues. Right now, these veterans must travel to other states for help. The new facility and services should be ready in 2022.

I especially liked it that all four members of our congressional district, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, worked together to advocate for this project. Given the divisiveness in D.C., it’s good to know our people can and do work together.

“We’ve been working with the VA to right this wrong and we are very pleased,” by this announcement, reported the delegation. “Maine veterans, particularly those with the unseen wounds of war, deserve to receive care here in our state,” they said.

All I can add is, “Amen.”

Golden has been advocating for this project since he was elected to the Maine Legislature in 2014. He said he “wanted to change things in Maine about how veterans get taken care of.”

Golden, who is a veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, reported that for years he’d heard from veterans who had to travel to VA facilities in Massachusetts, Connecticut and other states for treatment of mental health and substance abuse problems, which left them disconnected from their families and support systems.

And Golden gave credit to all of our congressional delegation for their strong support for this important project. One key factor was Jared’s success in convincing his colleagues to put more money in the VA’s budget for residential rehabilitation facilities.

A couple years ago a lady who had just been diagnosed with ALS visited with me. She didn’t want to go public with this news, and she was especially concerned that she’d lose her job at Togus.

But I convinced her that her friends would want to help her, so she did let people know and, not surprisingly, the good folks at Togus did everything they could to help her. And she kept working there until she could no longer do it physically.

My family had a wonderful experience when our dad was in the hospice unit at Togus for six months. The staff and volunteers provided great treatment for Dad, and we were able to visit him every day. He also had lots of other visitors, including Sen. King. I really feel bad for families who have someone in the hospice unit or hospital and cannot visit them because of the pandemic.

They cleared part of Dad’s room so he could paint, and he did more than 30 paintings there. But after three months, they weren’t sure Ezra Smith was dying, so they took him out of his room for some tests. My brother Gordon, sister Edie, and I were in Dad’s room waiting for the test results, when dad and a doctor entered the room and Dad said, “Great news. I’m in the right place.”

Yes, Dad’s sense of humor remained strong throughout his six months there, and he died very peacefully in his sleep.

My favorite memory is this. On the Togus campus, they dammed a small stream to create a small pond that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stocked with brook trout. I took Dad out to the pond in a wheelchair eight times and he caught fish every time.

We appreciate the service of our veterans, and it is very good that we have medical help for them at Togus, and that we’re expanding that help now. My family will always be grateful for the wonderful care Dad received at Togus for the last six months of his life.

 

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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