A new state-of-the-art clinic for Maine’s veterans is slated to open Monday in Portland, offering more services to more people in one centralized location.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ new community-based outpatient clinic on West Commercial Street is expected to serve as many as 400 veterans a day. It will consolidate services now offered at clinics in Saco and on Fore Street in Portland.

The $64 million, 62,000-square-foot facility will provide a wide range of medical, mental health and education services for many of the state’s estimated 114,000 veterans. At the same time, it’s designed to be a living monument to their service.

At a ribbon-cutting for the new clinic Friday, Tracye Davis, medical center director of the VA Maine Healthcare System, said the clinic is a step toward repaying the debt the state owes its veterans. 

“It will be a beacon to the veterans in Maine to let them know that we are here, we care and we’re ready to provide them the healthcare services they deserve in a facility that works for them,” she said.

People roam about near the check-in desk at the Veterans Affairs’ outpatient clinic in Portland on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Services offered at the new facility will include primary care, mental health, surgical and medical specialty services, dental and eye care, audiology, physical therapy, prosthetics support, a phlebotomy lab, radiology and telehealth. Veterans currently receiving such services from the Fore Street or Saco clinics will not see any interruptions in care, officials said. The transition to the new building will be staged to keep operations running smoothly.

Advertisement

Telemedicine technologies throughout the new facility will further improve service to Maine veterans in rural or more remote locations, according to the VA. The clinic also will serve as a teaching site, with space dedicated to enhancing affiliate relationships with the Tufts Medical School and Maine Medical Center.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree addressed veterans attending Friday’s event and those watching from home. “This is the state-of-the-art facility that you deserve, and this is exactly the level of care that we should be giving our veterans.”

Congressional records supporting construction of the new Portland facility show the number of veterans from all eras eligible for services there will tick steadily upward, reaching more than 104,000 in 2024, before declining to about 88,000 in 2034.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Donald Remy speaks during a ceremony at the outpatient clinic in Portland on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Planning for the new clinic, one of several under construction or set to open in 2022 across the country, began in 2010. 

According to Deputy Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Donald Remy, the new Portland clinic will be used as a model for other clinics and renovation projects to come.

It’s fitting, he said, given Maine’s long history in veterans’ care.

Advertisement

The Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta was the first VA center in the country. Caribou’s community outpatient clinic was also the country’s first.  

According to Remy, the VA makes a promise to every person who serves in the military: “If you fight for us, then we’ll fight for you.”

The new clinic is how that promise will be kept, he said.

Visitors listen Friday to speeches during a ceremony at the outpatient clinic in Portland, which is opening Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The relationship between veterans and the VA has not always been smooth.

Nationally, the VA has faced a great deal of criticism over the years, with allegations of excessive spending, poor and inconsistent leadership, a backlog of benefits claims, and inadequate care, including long wait times and poor access to services. In 2018, Congress passed the VA Mission Act, designed to improve how veterans access care outside of the VA system.

Maine’s VA system has not been without its own controversy. In 2014, the agency began a yearslong legal battle with several veterans who alleged mistreatment of foot and ankle problems at Togus. 

The following year, a federal watchdog agency found that inappropriate scheduling practices and other problems at Togus had contributed to delays for veterans seeking care.

Mark Winters, a veteran and representative of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, commended the VA for the level of care it is now able to provide, recognizing that “it may not have always been that way.”

“This location and this facility is just the latest example of a realization of needing to take care of our veterans and doing right by our veterans,” Winters said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.