AUGUSTA — Though Gov. Paul LePage vetoed 25 bills this week, he let a measure to help veterans with mental health issues become law.
Sponsor Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, said there are more than 10,000 veterans in Maine who don’t use Veterans Administration services who may need mental health help.
During the debate on the measure, lawmakers heard stories of suicidal veterans who wound up sitting for days in hospital emergency rooms as they wait to get assistance from the VA, which doesn’t have a single inpatient bed in Maine for veterans dealing with mental health issues.
Golden’s bill sets up a program to gather data on mental health admissions for veterans and establishes a pilot program to provide case management for those who require mental health care.
“This law will cover the cost of inpatient and outpatient mental health care for veterans, help cut dangerous wait times for veterans in crisis and gather data about the number of veterans who need care,” Golden said.
“One of the goals of this new law is to use this data to help the state demonstrate to Washington” that the VA needs inpatient beds in Maine, he said.
“It’s unacceptable that we don’t have long-term inpatient mental health care options for veterans in Maine,” said Golden. “We need to push the VA to fix this so that our veterans don’t have to go out of state for the care they need.”
Golden, a combat veteran who served in the Marines, said that addressing the issue was one of his key aims this year. Another, to fund lead abatement efforts, was carried over to the 2018 session.
In his second term in the House, Golden is the assistant House majority leader, a position also known as the party’s whip. He is weighing a possible congressional race against two-term Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s 2nd District.