Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are backing legislation to address a gap that prevents some veterans with early stage dementia from getting care at Maine Veterans’ Homes.

The measure, passed unanimously by both the House and Senate and co-authored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Angus King, I-Maine, along with Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, both Democrats, is part of a bipartisan bill to improve benefits for veterans.

Maine Veterans’ Homes, which operates six housing facilities in the state, has provided so-called “domiciliary care” for veterans with early-stage dementia since 2004, but newly enforced Department of Veterans Affairs eligibility requirements have limited access for many of these veterans, a joint release from the lawmakers stated.

The law change would allow the VA to waive those requirements and provide per diem payments that allow veterans to continue living in Maine Veterans’ Homes if they either meet at least half the VA’s current eligibility requirements or if it’s in their best interest.

More than 150 veterans with early dementia have been provided care for more than 20 years, according to Kelley Kash, the CEO for Maine Veterans’ Homes. “While the VA grandfathered existing veterans, nearly 40 veterans have been denied eligibility since January.”

Kash said the new law will correct “decades old administrative oversight that has negatively impacted Maine veterans and their families.”

“This bipartisan legislation will provide the flexibility needed to ensure that veterans with early-stage dementia do not fall through the cracks and that the VA can help address the growing needs for assistance for these patients,” Collins said in a statement, noting her father was a World War II veteran who received care at a veterans home in Caribou.

King said the bill, expected to be signed into law by President Trump in the next 10 days, aligns the needs of Maine veterans with the federal government’s responsibility to them.

“Maine’s veterans stepped up and answered the call to protect our state and our nation, and we have a responsibility to repay them with gratitude and the highest-quality care available,” King said.

Golden, a Marine veteran who served combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the measure will prevent many unintended consequences for Maine veterans who suffer from dementia.

“Bureaucrats in Washington are trying to enforce a misguided rule on Maine Veterans’ Homes that would not only take away medical care from some veterans, but also the roof over their heads,” Golden said. “The consequences for many of these vets, some of whom have dementia, are really serious and unacceptable to myself and my colleagues.”

Pingree said Maine State Veterans’ Homes are well equipped to meet the needs of these veterans and the legislation will ensure that they do.

“No one should be denied the care they need,” she said.


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