Sen. Angus King solicits ideas to improve the lives of veterans during a visit to Brunswick American Legion Post 20 Monday, Feb. 6. John Terhune / The Times Record

Sen. Angus King called on the defense community to better aid former soldiers transitioning back to civilian life Monday morning, days after announcing his appointment to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“I’ve been saying for years … that the Pentagon should put as much money and time and effort into the transition out as they do recruiting, because the data shows a lot of the suicides and a lot of the problems occur in the first couple of years after leaving active duty,” King told a crowd of more than two dozen veterans and veterans advocates at Brunswick American Legion Post 20. “Let’s look at the transition out budget and the recruitment budget — I guarantee there’s a hell of a difference.”

King, a Brunswick resident who has helped oversee the military since joining the Senate Armed Services Committee a decade ago, said he had lobbied for his new post on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and was “fired up” to find bipartisan solutions to issues like the high rate of homelessness and mental health problems among veterans. After offering brief introductory remarks, King ceded center stage to his constituents so they could share their concerns and suggestions for how to improve the lives of Maine veterans.

“The most valuable thing to me is ideas,” King said. “Tell me what needs fixing.”

David Richmond, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, was one of several panel members who suggested ways to ease what can be a difficult transition out of the military, including supporting peer-to-peer programs and improving communications between veterans’ services groups and newly retired soldiers. While the bureau is beginning to do a better job tracking the state’s 107,000 veterans, Richmond said his department has no way to contact about half that population, potentially leaving many armed service members without the benefits and mental health care to which they are entitled.

There were 6,146 veteran suicides in the United States in 2020, or nearly 17 each day, according to the 2022 National Suicide Prevention Report. As a group, veterans commit suicide at a rate more than 57% higher than the national average.


“When you are discharged from active duty with a broken body and you come back home and you have to navigate this system, it’s very heart-wrenching,” Maine Amvets Cmdr. Becky Conley said. “It is quite an ordeal — I can tell you that firsthand.”

Even those who do seek care from resources like the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta must sometimes wait months for support due to a statewide shortage of mental health care providers, Conley said. She and other speakers pushed King to look for solutions to that staffing crunch, including the VA Careers Act, which would raise pay caps for VA physicians and dentists.

By the end of the hour, King’s list of issues to look into had grown to 10 and ranged from protecting veterans from predatory law firms to expanding eligibility for VA dental care.

After joking about the amount of homework the crowd had assigned him, he pushed them to continue working through his office.

“I want you to take advantage of the fact that you have somebody sitting on this crucial committee,” he said. “Keep in touch.”

Veterans or anyone concerned a veteran may be in crisis can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and pressing 1.

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