TOGUS, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Hundreds of veterans and their family members attended the 150th-anniversary celebration of the Togus VA hospital on Saturday.
The Togus VA is the first VA hospital in the country.
"It inspires me that they're here and it also challenges me to make sure that we're providing the very best care to them every single day," said Togus VA Center Director Ryan Lilly. "It's a very important obligation we have to them. We take it very seriously here."
Since the problems with the VA system in 2014, VA hospitals nationwide have hired 1,200 new doctors and 2,300 nurses and provided more timely appointments — 96 percent of visits are scheduled and completed in 30 days, according to U.S. Sec. of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald.
"The needs of the veteran population is increasing because of the aging of that population," Sec. McDonald said. "This covenant [between veterans and the government] needs to extend and perpetuate."
The festivities Sunday included a parade and remarks from Maine's congressional delegation.
McDonald also toured the cemetery.
"There are people buried here who gave their lives up at a very young age for all of us, and all of us feel humbled by their sacrifice — inadequate in the face of their duty," he said.
McDonald said the VA is dedicated to rebuilding trust with veterans.
"We are committed to bringing same-day access to 100 percent of veterans by Dec. 31 of this year," he said.
The secretary also mentioned the possibility of teaming up with Maine Medical Center in the future to enhance veteran care, but did not go into specifics.
He said wait time for disability claim decisions has decreased 86 percent in the past year.
McDonald said the VA is also starting a project called the Maine Veteran Project. The project collects blood samples from veterans to map their genomes and hopefully link the causality of a disease to veterans through their genome to help them get specific, personalized care.
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