Hoping some of the money might find its way to Maine, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden recently persuaded colleagues to back $5 million in additional funding for long-term mental care for veterans.

Ensuring mental health care for veterans is personal for Golden, a first-term Democrat from Lewiston who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in combat as a U.S. Marine.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden

The money sought by Golden is part of a $400 billion spending measure that passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is likely to wind up in the final version of the bill after the Senate takes action.

Golden said the spending he inserted represents little more than “decimal dust” in the multibillion-dollar package, but it will make a difference in the lives of some of the men and women who have served the country.

Golden, who served in the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, said it has long bothered him that Maine veterans who need inpatient mental health care have to travel to Veterans Administration facilities in Massachusetts because there are no long-term beds in Maine.

It is a problem, he said, in other rural states, as well. He said all of them ought to have at least a limited number of beds so veterans can get care closer to home from medical professionals they might be able to continue seeing once they are on the mend.

About a third of the more than 1.7 million military personnel who have served since 2001 in support of operations have some sort of PTSD, depression or traumatic brain injury, according to a study by the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research.

“Safeguarding the mental health of these service members and veterans is an important part of ensuring the future readiness of our military force and compensating and honoring those who have served our nation,” the RAND Corp.’s “Invisible Wounds of War” study said.

Golden said when he got out of the service in 2006 and returned to Maine, he had no idea what PTSD was.

“I just kind of plugged on and went about life,” Golden said.

But one of his father’s cousins who knew the ropes told him to sign up with the Veterans Affairs right away to make sure he would be in the system, ready to receive any help he might need down the road.

So Golden went in for a screening, where he was asked about his dreams, unwanted memories, whether he was startled by loud booms and the like.

Like many Marines, he told the psychiatrist that he was fine. But the VA disagreed. It told him he had PTSD.

Golden said he never got any specific treatment for it, but through a vocational rehabilitation and treatment program he enrolled in, he had the chance to talk with other veterans, which helped.

“The resources were there for me,” he said, adding that he “had a support system that was ready and waiting” for him because he had a loving family and a network of friends.

But for many veterans, Golden said, getting VA help “can make all the difference.”

The VA’s medical center in Togus offers a range of mental health help, but veterans facing a crisis that requires more intensive treatment have to go to inpatient programs at least a few hours away, Golden said.

“It feels inherently wrong” for them to  have to go so far, the legislator said.

He called it a bad policy because there are so many benefits to staying closer to home for help.

Golden said the $5 million he got added will assist hundreds of veterans, but is not enough to address the overall problem for rural veterans.

The spending bill, which passed the House along partisan lines, would fund seven federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA.

The VA would get $217.5 billion for fiscal year 2020 under the proposal, almost 10% more than it received this year. It is almost twice as much as the VA received a decade ago.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on veterans issues, said in a written statement the bill “will provide significant and enhanced funding for the VA, deliver on our promise of medical care and benefits that veterans have earned through service to our nation, and make smart investments in critical programs that make a real difference in the lives of service members and veterans.”


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