April 23, 2021
WASHINGTON — Maine’s congressional delegation wrote to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough this week urging him not to delay construction of a new veterans mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) facility in Maine. The delegation has learned that construction of the new 24-bed facility at Togus may experience delays due to new guidance from the VA.
In their letter, Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02), Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Angus King (I-ME), and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) also asked McDonough to put the SUD facility on the VA’s Priority Projects list and ensure it receives required Fiscal Year 2022 construction funding and expedited priority for VA contracting.
“The timely construction and completion of the planned SUD Residential Treatment Program center at Togus is essential to addressing the convergence of veteran SUD, mental health, and access to care challenges in Maine,” wrote the members of Congress. “The urgent need for this facility has only increased since our March 2020 letter to Secretary Wilkie. Although COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health challenges nationwide, veterans suffering from stressors such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often uniquely impacted by the social distancing and isolation challenges associated with the pandemic… A consistent barrier to treatment has been a lack of meaningful access to care.”
The new facility at Togus was announced last August by the VA after years of advocacy from Golden and sustained pressure from the entire Maine delegation. In addition, Senator Collins secured a provision in the FY21 VA funding bill emphasizing the need for this new facility at Togus. As a member of the MilCon-VA appropriations subcommittee, Pingree has fought to include increased construction funding and prioritization of residential rehabilitation programs in the annual VA funding bill. Golden secured an amendment 2020 to provide additional funding to repurpose vacant and underutilized space for veterans’ mental health needs, prioritizing construction to increase the number of beds available for overnight mental health treatment.
Read a copy of the letter here.