by Gerry Day
Maine veterans are lucky to have access to the oldest Veterans Administration hospital in the United States.
Thanks to the early veterans who took on the challenge to start the new VA hospital, who had to grow their own vegetables and raise animals to be able to feed everyone. They also maintained the buildings and the equipment in the hospital. Without those early veterans, there may not have been a Togus hospital at all.
Togus was named after the Worromontogus Native American tribe that lived in the area.
The hospital was founded following the American Civil War and admitted its first veteran on November 10, 1866.
Today’s VA staff doesn’t have to go through each day the way they did back then. But, do they have it easier?
The current staff has been taxed to provide services not even thought of in those days: budgets, laws passed by Congress, financial benefits, service-related issues and family benefits, life insurance, house loans, school loans for veterans and, in some cases, their family. They also have to determine service and non-service connected benefits. They no longer treat just the sick and injured veterans. Now, with added requirements and computers to process, they also need additional technical training to stay proficient at the job.
Prior to new agreements with the Department of Defense, the information needed to determine eligibility for a veteran’s rating, the VA would contact as many as 20 different organizations, and probably still couldn’t verify their eligibility.
There were many questions to be answered. Was the veteran in the place where the incident happened at the time? Was he treated medically as a result of the incident?
It was a long and trying process for the veteran and the VA. Because of new procedures where the Department of Defense provides the VA with current medical information on what treatment a veteran has been receiving, the VA, in most cases, has to go to one place for the information.
The people who work to get veterans rated for their claims are the VA staff, with help from service organizations, and others who volunteer their time. Some who have retired from the VA and have come back to volunteer to do many jobs, takes the load off the staff who process the claims.
If the veteran has a justified claim, the VA will do all they can to get the claim approved, and get the veteran awarded the benefits they deserve. Currently, the VA, according to the Department of Defense agreement, gets copies of a veteran’s medical records when they are discharged. This makes it easier and quicker to process new claims, as they will have access to documents needed to process the claim.
This also makes it easier for the VA medical staff to treat veterans. They now have current medical information about what has been done to treat the veteran while on active duty.
For those living away from Togus, there have been agreements made for them to be treated closer to home. In some cases, this is not possible because there isn’t a doctor in their area who practices in a specialized field. They, then, have to find treatment elsewhere, and this probably means a trip to Togus.
According to the Togus public information officer, Jim Doherty, the VA currently treats 42,500 veterans in Maine. They have eight full time outpatient community clinics, and three part-time community access clinics.
Maine veterans have the best of the best taking care of their needs. I know, I am a service-connected veteran myself.
With that in mind, thanks to the two Garys – Gary Burns and Gary Kennedy – who spend their time helping Maine veterans as veterans’ advocates. They do a great job mediating cases between the veteran and the VA system. We can’t thank you guys enough.
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