Maine News: Stop the Privatization of VA Medical Services for Rural Maine Veterans! / by Andy O’Brien

Image credit: Maine Preservation

Medical services for rural veterans at the Togus VA Medical Center in Chelsea are slated to be consolidated, privatized and outsourced to other parts of the state as part of a series of recommendations put forth in a report released by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The document calls for a massive nationwide consolidation and reorganization of veteran’s services.

“If the closure recommendations take effect millions of veterans needing surgery, intensive care, emergency care, substance abuse treatment, skilled nursing home care and inpatient mental health care will be forced to rely on private hospitals that have little to no specialized experience in meeting the unique needs of America’s veterans” per a statement from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

The plan for Maine would convert the hospital at Togus into an urgent care center and then partially privatize and move the emergency room, inpatient medical, surgical services and nursing home services to Portland and other parts of Maine. The report also recommends closing the Rumford community-based outpatient clinic and the Bingham VA Mobile Unit and relocating those services to a new community-based outpatient clinic in Farmington. The VA is also calling for the closure of VA clinics in Houlton and Fort Kent and outsourcing those services to private clinics.

In addition, the VA recommends removing the community living services from Augusta to Portland, but the VA is actually in the process of building a new nursing home on the Togus campus.

The report is pending review by the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission, a board created by the 2018 VA MISSION Act, a bill designed to promote vast privatization of VA healthcare. 

If approved, Sec. McDonough’s recommendations would:

  • Close large segments of the VA health care system, including at least 17 integrated VA medical centers around the country.
  • Destroy tens of thousands of union jobs in communities across the country.
  • Deny veterans their preferred choice in health care providers.
  • Force our military veterans to find their own care from a patchwork of for-profit providers.

Currently, over one-third of all veterans’ medical visits have already been sent outside of the VA system and more than a quarter of VA healthcare dollars have already been diverted to the private, for-profit sector as a result of the VA MISSION Act. AFGE estimates that one-third of the union jobs at the VA that the AIR commission would destroy are held by veterans themselves.

VA leadership in Washington claims that these drastic measures are necessary because the veteran’s population is shifting to southern Maine, but it will also require rural Maine veterans to drive several more hours for services that may not suit their unique needs. There is currently no federal funding allocated to make these dramatic changes.

It’s time for VA workers, veterans, and all Americans to demand that our local, state, and national leaders put a stop to this assault on veterans’ care. It’s time to let the air out of the AIR Commission, halt the Senate confirmation of AIR commissioners, and repeal Title 2 of the MISSION Act. Closing VA facilities must be entirely off the table.


Andy O’Brien is lifelong Mainer, writer, former Maine state legislator, and former editor of The Free Press, a newspaper covering midcoast Maine. He covered Maine state politics for nine years with a focus on Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo counties. He is also the communications director of the Maine AFL-CIO but is speaking in his own capacity and is not representing his employer.

Maine AFL-CIO, May 26, 2022,