Don Simoneau of Fayette, Maine, adds American flags to mark the graves of nearly 13,000 veterans in the state's memorial cemetery in Augusta, Maine, on Thursday, May 22, 2008. Credit: Pat Wellenbach / AP

As an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, I know very well the struggles that people in my generation faced when returning home from overseas. While the nature of some of those struggles have changed, there is no doubt that today’s returning veterans face many of the same obstacles. Here in Maine, we have one of the highest numbers of veterans per capita in the country — and far too many are tragically experiencing homelessness and other serious challenges upon returning to home.

Our veterans have sacrificed and put themselves on the line for us. That’s why during my time in the Legislature, I have made sure that delivering real results for veterans has been one of my top priorities.

Last year, the Legislature took a number of positive steps forward on this issue. We passed bills allowing people to donate their moose lottery permit to a disabled veteran, to require both public and private employers to give veterans time off from work to attend a scheduled medical appointment at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and to create a program in the Bureau of Veterans Affairs to fund certain veterans organizations in the state.

These are just a few examples of what we have done over the last couple years. But when the Legislature began its work for the second regular session six months ago, I knew that stronger steps had to be taken.

That’s why I decided to introduce LD 2145, a “Veterans Bill of Rights” similar to what has been proposed by lawmakers in other states. The goal of this bill is to take an ambitious and comprehensive approach to tackling the real problems our service men and women face everyday — including improving access to job training, housing, health care and a host of other resources to meet critical needs.

It was my hope that the Veterans Bill of Rights proposal would include some funding for the United Veterans of Maine in Caribou. UVM is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the men and women who have served our country in transitioning back to civilian life — gaining crucial access to Veterans Affairs benefits, job training and more.

Unfortunately, several months ago the spread of COVID-19 across the country brought life as we know it to a halt. In March, the Legislature adjourned early to stop the spread of the virus, and work on the bill was left unfinished.

Late last year, Attorney General Aaron Frey awarded a one-time grant to the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope in Augusta, an organization with a particular focus on the needs of female veterans. With the Veterans Bill of Rights proposal still in limbo, I worked with Senate President Jackson and United Veterans of Maine to ask the attorney general for a similar grant award for their organization.

In early May, I sent a letter to Attorney General Frey making this request on behalf of United Veterans of Maine, citing the needs of veterans in Aroostook County. I was pleased to hear that the attorney general agreed and granted $100,000 to the organization. This money will be a crucial boost to UVM and will ensure their long-term planning for the future. I am grateful for the attorney general’s attention to the issue, and proud to offer my help to our veterans here in northern Maine.

I know that there is always more work to do in the future to improve the health and well-being of those who have given us so much. I will always do my best to provide a strong voice for the people of Aroostook County.

Mike Carpenter, D-Houlton, represents District 2 in the Maine Senate.