Forecaster Forum: Maine can thank veterans by easing access to care

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Those who have put country first and risked their lives to protect it deserve support through more than just words alone. We can show them meaningful thanks by finding ways to give back to those who have given so much for us.

One critically important way to support our veterans is to make sure they have the health care they need to live healthy and productive lives post-service.

Many do not realize that while veterans did have coverage during active duty, they do not receive the same care once they have left the military. While the Department of Veterans Affairs does outstanding work providing care to our nation’s veterans, many veterans have gaps in their health care access or have no coverage at all.

For example, some reservists and National Guard members who served in conflicts abroad are only eligible for VA care for a brief period of time after their service.

According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, there are 1.3 million uninsured vets under the age of 65 across the nation, nearly half of whom have income levels at or below the federal poverty level.

Only about 50 percent of eligible vets are enrolled in VA care. Often veterans must wait for months before they can receive care. To access that care they must travel long distances, taking time off from work and arranging for transportation to the nearest VA center, which could be hours away.

Expanding health care in Maine would cover more of these veterans and allow these veterans to access health care close to home.

Regardless of what income, education and work experience may provide you with, good health must come first for the rest to follow. Our veterans must be healthy in order to lead successful lives after their finishing their service.

That’s why it is so important that we accept federal health dollars to expand access to coverage for thousands of Mainers across the state, including about 3,000 veterans. By investing in our veterans’ health, Maine would improve the quality of life for its residents and inject money into our economy.

A healthy workforce is good for Maine’s economy. With veterans making up 15 percent of our state’s population, their health is key to Maine’s prosperity.

Yet this month, many Maine veterans are part of the 144,000 nationwide who will be ineligible for Medicaid because they live in a state that did not accept federal health dollars.

Expanding access to health care must remain at the forefront of our minds moving forward. Democrats submitted a new bill to be considered when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

I look forward to engaging fellow lawmakers and the public in this discussion so that we can get our state back on track and provide real support to our former service members.

If we can provide our veterans with access to care when they come home, it will send a message that we truly are thankful for their service. It will also send a message to potential servicemen and women that our nation will give back to those who give so much for it.

Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Gray, North Yarmouth and Pownal. She is a pediatric nurse practitioner.