HOW AROOSTOOK COUNTY VETERANS TOOK ON THE VA—And WON!

Vaughn

Last year the Marine Corps League Detachment in which I am the second in command (officially the Senior Vice-Commandant) in conjunction with Cary Medical Center in Caribou began a quest. We wanted to establish two things: (1) an advisory committee made up of members from the various veterans groups in Aroostook County and (2) a long-term facility in which homeless veterans could be housed until they got back on their feet. I had no idea what I was getting into!

First I wrote letters to every veterans post or detachment in the county and comprised a committee the we have called the Aroostook Veteran’s Advisory Committee. The committee has members from The Marine Corps League (MCL), the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the American Legion (AL), and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). At our first meeting I was unanimously voted as chairman (that’ll teach me to start something!) and we stated our mission as being the lobbying group for local veterans. As most of our blog followers probably know, Aroostook County is Maine’s furthest north  county and is bigger than some states. The only Veterans Administration hospital in Maine is located in Togus, a 200 mile plus distance away. To assist veterans in rural areas the Veterans Administration started a program called Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home). ARCH was designed to assist veterans in rural areas by allowing select local hospitals in their local area treat them for their service-connected problems. Five hospitals were selected as beta sites — Cary Medical Center was one of these. Of the five hospitals only Cary was a success (the primary reasons for this are too complex to go into in this blog) and in August of 2016 the program was to lose its funding.

The Aroostook Veteran’s Advisory Committee took on the battle to save Project ARCH. Each of the organizations that comprise the AVAC have clauses in their charters that they are to refrain from political activity and they are not to get involved in politics. This is not true of our committee, we immediately contacted Maine’s two senators (Both senators Susan Collins and Angus King have offices and representatives in Caribou) and the congressman for Maine’s 2nd congressional district (Bruce Poloquin has an office and representative in Presque Isle) and were pleasantly surprised that all three supported our effort. Congressman Poloquin’s representative, Kim Rohn,now attends our meetings. We got a meeting in which the Vice-Secretary of Health for the VA system. Dr. David Shulkin (whom President Trump has recently named VA Secretary), was sent from Washington to meet with us. Also in attendance were our local state legislators and Congressman Poloquin. To help Dr. Shulkin understand our concern, the Director of Togus, Ryan Kelly, drove him from the VA Medical Center to Caribou on a dark night in February. It helped emphasize our concerns. Dr. Shulkin later mentioned what a long drive it was. I replied, “Now consider what it’s like for a sick veteran…”

When the delegation from the VA arrived they were led into the meeting room at Cary Medical Center and were astonished to see 150 veterans there. The meeting opened and was over three hours long as veterans were given the opportunity to actually meet and ask questions of the VA decision-makers.

The end result was a commitment from Dr. Shulkin that regardless of what action congress may (or may not) take, Cary Medical Center would continue operating as an ARCH facility (although the program may be renamed).

For me the high point of the meeting came when Kim Rohn took me aside and said: “They are scared to death of you.”

I replied: “Who, Togus?”

“No,” Kim said, “Washington. They see how you have organized all of the veterans in Aroostook County and they are afraid that when word of what you’ve done gets out it will spread.”

I smiled and said: “I already sent letters to the national headquarters of every veteran’s organization.”

In a future blog I’ll present our next campaign . . . a long-term shelter for homeless veterans and their families that we are calling The Dahlgren-Skidgel Farm For Hope (named for Aroostook County’s two Medal of Honor winners).

About Vaughn Hardacker

Vaughn Hardacker is the author of three published crime/thriller novels,(SNIPER, THE FISHERMAN, and THE BLACK ORCHID) published by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. His fourth and newest novel (WENDIGO) is available through most online book sellers. His fifth (MY BROTHER'S KEEPER--the second installment in the Ed Traynor series) is under contract for future publication. He is a veteran of the U. S. Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. He lives in Stockholm, Maine where he is busy on his next crime thriller.
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20 Responses to HOW AROOSTOOK COUNTY VETERANS TOOK ON THE VA—And WON!

  1. Monica says:

    Thank you. My husband drives an hour from our house to Togus. Last year a snowplow on an overpass pushed a load of ice onto his windshield as he drove on I-95. Smashed the windshield into the front seat.

    I’m happy you were able to get health care closer to home in the County.

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thanks Monica,

      I find some hope in the fact that Dr. David Shulkin who visited us up here has been named as the new head of the VA by President Trump. We’ll keep an eye on this as they progress.

      Vaughn

  2. Brian Thiem says:

    Way to go, Vaughn. I can’t think of many more noble causes than taking care of our veterans.

  3. Dick Cass says:

    Well done, Vaughn. More evidence that most of the important politics is local . .

  4. Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

    Thanks, Brian:

    It is encouraging to know that when we band together we can get their attention and come out ahead!

    V

  5. Hooray for you, Vaughn! Keep fighting the good fight!

    Sherry Christie (daughter of a vet)

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thank you, Christie:

      We vets have to stick together. We succeeded because we got all the local veteran organizations to stop their individual turf wars and unite for a common cause.

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      I’m sorry Sherry, I saw your last name and assumed it was your first.

  6. Lea Wait says:

    Great work! Thanks for letting us know!

  7. Barb Ross says:

    A profound endorsement of the concept of local action. It seems impossible when dealing with a bureaucracy that size that local action makes a difference, but it may be the only thing that makes a difference. Congratulations on your success.

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thanks Barb: The secret is to let them know that you have a block of votes and that they listen to your recommendation. It didn’t hurt that it was an election year!

  8. Jacki York says:

    Awesome! And a gentle nudge to the rest of us who may think that our voice is not heard!

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      It is truly amazing what can happen. The key is to create a centralizing organization (i.e. the Aroostook Veteran;s Advocacy Committee I started) and let them know that you have a block of voters. That’s the only thing they listen to.

  9. Wonderful job, Vaughn! I am so glad you are leading the charge on this important issue!

    • Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

      Thanks Dick

      We’re also getting the state to assist with the homeless facility we’re building.

  10. Vaughn C. Hardacker says:

    The amazing part is that we’re only getting started. We plan to have a veteran’s homeless shelter in Caribou. We’re naming it after Edward Dahlgren (Medal of Honor winner in WWII) and Donald Skidgel (Posthumous Medal of Honor in Vietnam).

  11. Rae Francoeur says:

    I am impressed by you and your group’s commitment to our veterans and their care, your efforts and accomplishments. As Barb wrote, this is an inspiring example of how a local action can make a difference for many. Congratulations and best wishes.

  12. Kait Carson says:

    Rock on. I’m the proud wife of a Marine Corp vet. We can’t wait to get back home to our place in Wallagrass. And I’m a mystery author too. Congratulations and thank you for all you have done.

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