In the Legislature, there are a lot of things that we disagree about. There are currently heated debates happening about a whole range of issues – the state budget, vaccines, guns — I could go on forever. But there’s one thing on which I’m fairly certain we all agree: We have an obligation to do everything we can to support veterans, active duty military service members and their families.

It’s incumbent upon all of us as lawmakers to recognize the service and sacrifice of veterans and active duty military members, and to hold up our end of the bargain to make sure they and their families are able to lead the successful, prosperous lives they deserve.

It’s a poorly kept secret that when men and women return from serving overseas, they sometimes have a tough time adjusting to civilian life. Homelessness and mental health problems are unfortunately all too common among veterans today.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that about 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. In Maine, the Bureau of Veterans’ Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs runs programs aimed at alleviating homelessness among the veteran population. Veterans who have become homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless can access help via the homeless case management program at Togus or by calling the National Homeless Veterans hotline at 1-877-424-3838. Maine’s Homeless case management program can be reached at 207-623-8411, ext. 5408.

There are a few bills this session that would support reducing veteran homelessness. Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is introducing LD 501, “An Act To Provide Funding for the Homeless Veterans Center in Caribou,” which would do exactly what it says. Rep. BettyAnn Sheats, D-Auburn, is introducing LD 510, “An Act To Authorize Funding for Transitional Housing for Women Veterans and Their Families,” which would fund improvements at the Betsy Ann Ross House in Augusta, which provides housing for female veterans and their families.

A study by the RAND Corporation found that about 14 percent of soldiers returning from war are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, 14 percent are diagnosed with depression, and 19 percent have likely experienced a traumatic brain injury. These problems can have secondary effects, such as addiction or an increased risk of suicide. Togus Hospital in Augusta works with veterans who are struggling with mental health problems, and can be contacted at 207-623-8411 ext. 5515.

Rep. Tiffany Roberts-Lovell, D-South Berwick, introduced LD 835, “An Act To Increase Funding for Case Managers for Veterans,” which seeks to increase funding for case managers who help veterans ease into civilian life. Another proposal, LD 536, “An Act To Direct the Judicial Branch To Establish a Veterans Treatment Court,” introduced by Rep. Sheats, would create a special court system that could meet the needs of veterans.

Finally, one bill that I am particularly excited about is LD 72, “An Act To Provide an Income Tax Exemption for Military Pay without Regard to Where the Military Service Was Performed,” introduced by yours truly. Right now, military pay earned outside of the state is exempt from Maine income taxes. This bill would provide the same exemption for military pay earned within the state. It’s a simple fix that creates a more fair tax system for the men and women who serve in the military in Maine.

As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to reach my office at 287-1515 or [email protected] I work for you and you have a right to hold me accountable.

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