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Tuesday November 21, 2017
Posted: Jul 29, 2015

In a veteran-heavy district, Poliquin gains visibility on VA issues

Up Country

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If you’ve seen U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District in the media lately, it’s likely that he was talking about veterans.

Last week, he toured the Walter Reed military hospital in Maryland with three other Republican freshmen, using a column in The Hill to promote the visit, hit the Obama administration for issues with veterans’ health care nationwide and advocate for bills before Congress that they say would help fix those problems.

“I have a very soft spot in my heart for our veterans who have fought for us and allowed this country to be what it is today,” Poliquin said in an interview last week with the Kennebec Journal.

Aside from that, there’s a logical reason for Poliquin to focus on veterans: The 2nd District will have more than 65,000 in September, according to VA population estimates. That’s more than the rest of the state and any other congressional district in New England. It’ll be one of just 63 House districts with more than 65,000 veterans.

Democrat Mike Michaud, who held the seat before Poliquin, made veterans his bread-and-butter issue, rising to become his party’s ranking member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Poliquin can’t quite claim it as his top issue — he has a background in investing and is on the House Financial Services Committee — but he has been active on it lately.

Poliquin made noise after a federal watchdog found issues with mental health care at the VA Maine Healthcare System, saying in a statement then that “Togus has failed” to give veterans the care they “were promised, earned and deserve.” Also, he has co-sponsored nine bills before the veterans affairs or armed services committees, including one that would expand a federal program that allows veterans seeking mental health care to be treated immediately at private facilities.

The VA has been criticized by both parties after it was rocked by a national wait-time scandal in 2014 and problems linger: In June, The New York Times reported that wait time were longer than they were at the scandal’s peak. Republicans have also picked fights with the Obama administration. They support a Veterans Affairs funding bill that increases funding to the department, but has been criticized by the Democratic administration for being $1.4 billion less than it asked for.

Poliquin said members of Congress have “done our part” to try to fix the problems, but he didn’t seem hopeful that much would improve under the Obama administration, saying “it doesn’t matter how much money you put in there if you management that is incapable and unaccountable.”

“We know what these issues are. We have the money to fix them,” he said. “There is absolutely no excuse why these problems have not been fixed yet and I am watching this very closely.”

 

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