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March 31, 2015

Sen. Angus King tours Bangor veterans facilities to help make case for increased funding

BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Sen. Angus King spent a portion of his 71st birthday visiting the Maine Veterans’ Home in Bangor, a place he helped to dedicate two decades ago when he was governor.

After 20 years, the place is starting to show its age, and King, an independent, said there is just not enough money in the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget to help with renovations. That is why he and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, are advocating for increased construction grant funding to improve infrastructure at veterans homes and to expand and improve access.

“Susan Collins and I are trying to get it pumped up,” King said Tuesday in the lobby of the Maine Veterans’ Home on Hogan Road after getting a tour of the campus and talking with employees and veterans. “It’s a bad time to be cutting veterans benefits.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs got $90 million for construction grants last year and the president’s budget calls for $10 million less, King said.

“We try to update whenever we can, but the building is 20 years old,” Greg Urban, director of the Maine Veterans’ Home in Bangor, said. “We need more money for capital improvements.”

State Veterans Homes, such as the six in Maine, provide care to about 53 percent of the country’s veterans in long-term care at a cost of about 16 percent of the annual Veterans Administration budget, Urban said.

There are more than 1,600 veterans and 400 eligible spouses who live or get services at Maine’s six veterans’ homes, which are located in Augusta, Caribou, Scarborough, South Paris, Machias and Bangor.

“We want to emphasize we do a lot of good for the Veterans Administration and for veterans,” said Bangor’s director.

King also is scheduled to tour the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Bangor Community Based Outpatient Clinic Tuesday afternoon where he will discuss the state of veterans care in Maine and how Congress can continue to improve support for veterans after passage of the VA overhaul last year, a press release about his visit to Bangor states.

King will be joined by Ryan Lilly, director of VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus, on the afternoon tour of the VA clinic located at 35 State Hospital Drive.

Appropriation hearings in both houses will take place starting next week, the senator said.

“I think in the end, they are going to do the right thing,” King said of his fellow lawmakers.

“These guys have given so much,” King said of the veterans. “If anybody in our society deserves it — they do.”

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