U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud fields questions during a meeting with veterans July 7 in Newcastle. (Tim Badgley photo)
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By Tim Badgley
Following months of news coverage surrounding the treatment of American veterans of the Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Representative and Democratic candidate for governor Mike Michaud,, told veterans in Newcastle July 7 the oversight role he played in Congress actually helped uncover what has become a national disgrace.
Michaud, in the Twin Villages area to attend a rally for his gubernatorial campaign, participated in a question-answer forum with veterans, hosted by Maine Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle.
National media sources have published numerous reports of American veterans who were denied claims or left waiting for treatment. An internal VA audit has put the figure at more than 120,000 veterans denied service. In Phoenix, Ariz., more than 40 veterans are reported to have died waiting for treatment.
Michaud said that as the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the misdoings were brought to light during 40 separate oversight hearing on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s because of our work that we’ve been doing on the House side is what brought this whole scandal forward,” Michaud said. “A whistle blower came forward and actually helped us out in that regard.”
Elizabeth Printy, finance chairman of the Lincoln County Republican Committee, challenged Michaud, saying, “You should be the whistle blower and you didn’t come forward. So all of these deaths took place and this situation has escalated.”
“That is clearly a political issue,” Michaud said. “One thing Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller and I made very clear, this is not a political issue. We’re not using veterans for politics, and for those that are using veterans for politics, it’s a shame that they are doing that.”
Michaud said that the quality of care provided by the VA to veterans should be measured in outcomes.
“The whole problem in Phoenix, Arizona, was that they had goals. The goal was to take care of the veteran in 14 days,” Michaud said. “That had nothing to do with the outcome of whether that veteran was taken care of appropriately. That’s where the gaming of the system came in.”
Vietnam veteran Frank Muller of Northport told Michaud that after 30 months he has not received a decision yet on his appeal of a benefit claim decision. Michaud said that he was aware of the ever increasing backlog of appeals and has spoken to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Neighbors that the situation must be addressed.
Retired Marine Gary Larson told Michaud that Project ARCH is working well in Aroostook County. ARCH, Access Received Closer to Home, a pilot program in five regions throughout the country, provides health care services to veterans through contractual arrangements with non-VA care providers.
According to Michaud he sponsored the bill that established Project ARCH. The program is due to expire in September.
“There’s a lot of interest both on the senate side and the House side to continue the ARCH program, making it permanent for those states that already have it,” Michaud said.
David Patch, retired Navy and Vietnam veteran and a service officer at the American Legion Post #36 in Boothbay said that Togus lacks the mental health psychiatrists and clinicians to do the work that needs to be done.
According to Patch when a doctor leaves Togus, appointments are not made for veterans requiring services in that particular specialty until a replacement is hired.
Michaud said Congress has appropriated money for the VA to hire 900 to 1000 mental health professionals.
Michaud said that according to a study done at Harvard the estimated cost of taking care of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans over their lifetimes will be between $4-5 billion.
“The real cost of this war is that long-term cost,” Michaud said. “We’ve got to start focusing on that today to make sure the resources are in place.”
Michaud said he seeks to realign the organization of veterans’ health with veterans’ benefits and veterans’ cemeteries. According to Michaud, each of the three areas of service to veterans is administered separately and are divided into different regional boundaries.
Michaud said that all three services should be aligned into six or seven regions throughout the nation with one administrator in charge of each region.
“There’s no one in charge of any specific region,” Michaud said. “Once you realign them, you can eliminate some of the administrative costs. That’s the way you will have more accountability.”