PORTLAND, Maine — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to hire three new staff members to help Maine veterans adjust to and cope with life outside the military.
In next three months, the VA intends to hire a staffer to help Maine veterans navigate the criminal justice system, as well as state coordinators for its programs to connect returning veterans with health care and suicide prevention services.
VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman announced the new positions during a symposium on veteran suicide at the University of Southern Maine Tuesday. The staffers will be based at the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta but are expected operate statewide, according to Ryan Lilly, director of the medical center.
“Veteran suicide is a significant problem for the state and the country,” said Lilly, noting people who have served in the military are more likely than civilians to die by suicide. “These are critical needs for the system and all three positions will help.”
The new positions will give Maine a second VA employee in the Veterans Justice Program — which focuses on criminal justice, homelessness, addiction and coordinating between the department and local law enforcement — and a third focused on suicide prevention, according to Lilly and a spokesperson for U.S. Sen Angus King.
As of 2014, the rate of veteran suicide in Maine exceeded the national average by nearly 10 percent, according to the VA. With 55 veteran suicides in that year, Maine’s rate also surpassed the average in the Northeast by more than 17 percent.
King had urged the VA in February to fund two of the new positions.
All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation applauded the Tuesday announcement.
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