Monday, October 26, 2015

Strengthening services for Maine Veterans - By Rep. Mark Bryant

As we look forward to Veterans Day, I wanted to share some information about the work the Maine Legislature did this past session to help veterans in our state. 
Maine has one of the highest populations of veterans per capita; more than 1 in 10 Mainers have served, including hundreds here in Windham. Our veterans range in age from young adults to senior citizens, and their needs are as diverse as their experiences. 

They have made remarkable sacrifices for our country, and many return from war with challenges ranging from physical disabilities to scarring memories and economic struggles. High unemployment and homelessness plague veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Nationally, there are 18 to 22 veteran suicides per day, an alarming and devastating statistic. Although veterans have gained countless valuable skills during their time of training and service, it can be extremely difficult for them to find their footing when they return to civilian life. 

The Bureau of Maine Veterans’ Services and the federal U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provide crucial services to help veterans navigate and overcome these challenges, but they sometimes miss the mark. 

To help ensure that these programs achieve their intended outcome, we passed a law to strengthen and streamline the services provided to Maine’s veterans. The bill was sponsored by my colleague Rep. Jared Golden, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. His personal experience as a young veteran returning to life in Maine give him a strong understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s current offerings. 

Rep. Golden’s bill creates a commission that will bring together lawmakers and veterans to identify gaps, duplications and inefficiencies and search for new ways to help veterans in Maine thrive. 

One focus of the commission’s work will be to improve the state’s engagement and communication with veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Young veterans are technologically savvy and should be reached through more creative ways, for example, than the simple snail mail pamphlet that is currently sent to veterans at the end of their service. Many veterans don’t take advantage of the services available to them because they don’t even know they exist, let alone how to access them. 

The commission will look for ways to improve health care and mental health services when there is a gap in federal services. It will also seek to better align community, state and federal resources to assist homeless veterans in Maine. 

Finally, the commission will explore ways in which the state can develop and implement a marketing strategy to encourage veterans and military families to attend state colleges and to live and work in Maine. Maine should be proud to have so many servicemen and women living in our communities, and we should seek to be one of the best places for veterans to live. 

The commission will start meeting this month, and will report their findings back to the full Legislature in January. 

If you would like to learn more about the Commission and other work to help veterans, please feel free to contact me at or 892-6591.

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