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home : news : news Friday, April 29, 2016

7/10/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Veteran visits. Ed Gaudet (left) and Chuck Morel (right) of Clinton County Veterans’ Affairs talk with Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City) about problems in the veterans’ health care system. Photo by Jeremy Huss
Loebsack meets with local veterans, discusses compensation and health care

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

Providing financial compensation for Marines sickened by contaminated water at Camp LeJeune and improving health care in the Veterans Affairs (VA) system were some of the topics on the minds of area veterans who met with Second Congressional District Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City) Wednesday, July 3, at the Clinton County administration building.

Rep. Loebsack and staff member Virginia Stratton were joined by Clinton County VA director Ed Staszewski and employees/volunteers Ed Gaudet, Chuck Morel, Bob Krajnovich and Donald Noonan, as well as Gary McDermott and Gwen Nixon.

Loebsack explained he is not a veteran himself, but his oldest brother served in the army in Vietnam, and his late father-in-law fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Loebsack and his wife, Terry, also have two children who are in the Marines.

Loebsack serves on the House Armed Services Committee and also on the board of directors of the Veterans Affairs hospital, in part because Iowa has one of the highest per-capita military deployment rates in the country.

The Congressman took questions and comments from attendees, starting by asking Staszewski about the state of veterans issues in Clinton County.

"We see more Vietnam vets than we do from Iraq and Afghanistan," Staszewski said, including a growing number of claims for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With close to 5,000 veterans in the county of approximately 45,000 people, Clinton County has one of the highest veteran populations in Iowa, he said.

Staszewski said he thinks there is a stigma associated with Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who seek mental health care in the VA system that is preventing them from seeking treatment.

Gaudet raised the issue of Marines who were forced to drink contaminated water at Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, N.C., saying he has been working with a Marine who contracted breast cancer but had his VA claim denied, despite the government acknowledging the contamination problem. The man's wife and daughter also were diagnosed with cancer.

"We believe there should be some compensation to these individuals who went through that, similar to Agent Orange in Vietnam," Gaudet said.

VA volunteer Morel said it's important to keep staff like himself trained in computers so they have the same comfort level with technology as the veterans they assist in filing claims.

"To serve our veterans, we have to have a multi-pronged approach, because the demand is so great, there's so much need out there," Loebsack said.

"At a time entitlement has become a bad word, veterans are entitled to these benefits. They signed a contract with the American government, the American people, when they signed up," he said.

He noted Congress passed a post-9/11 GI Bill that increased educational and health benefits and expanded them to include the National Guard and Army Reserve.

Gaudet praised improvements that have made VA claim forms smaller, but he also raised concerns about veterans' access to emergency health care.

He cited the recent case of a veteran in DeWitt who was wandering around town during a severe storm and believed he was back in Saigon.

VA volunteer Chuck Morel found the man and took him to the emergency room, but the hospital planned to release him, and the VA refused to send an ambulance or pay for transportation, so Morel drove him to Iowa City Hospitals and Clinics at his own cost.

"Where would this guy be if not for Chuck?" Gaudet asked.

Loebsack's staff member, Stratton, who works regularly on veterans issues, said she has been aggravated with the VA's denial of reimbursement claims in similar situations.

She advised older veterans have a plan in place for where to go and who to call in case an emergency health problem arises.

Gaudet shared the story of another local veteran who had emergency surgery for a bowel or urinary problem, saying the 92-year-old Battle of the Bulge veteran is being billed by the VA for half of the surgery cost.

McDermott, a former president of the local chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, discussed problems he encountered after his VA-provided van broke down.

He said a prosthetics chief at the VA told him "You veterans get too much already," and he also experienced billing problems related to the vehicle repairs and a new wheelchair.

"It's very difficult for a veteran with a spinal cord injury who lives in a rural area to get treatment," McDermott said.

Stratton agreed to look into the issue on his behalf.

Bob Krajnovich, who volunteers to drive local veterans to the VA hospital in Iowa City, complained about unnecessary positions being created at the hospital while funding is being cut elsewhere, and Gaudet raised the issue of volunteers being denied credit for service hours and reimbursement for lunch costs.

Asked about potential cuts in funding for recreational programs for veterans, Loebsack said the program is included on a list of cuts.

VA funding isn't being cut directly by federal sequestration, he said, but the cost of care for 65,000 returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan is straining the system.

"As other conflicts happen, we have to remember the reason we're in this situation is Afghanistan and Iraq. I wasn't in Congress at that time, but very few members of Congress thought very hard about what those decisions were going to mean for the VA systems when those deployments came back," Loebsack said.

Improvements in medical treatment mean there is a much higher ratio of wounded vets returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan when compared to the Vietnam War, Loebsack said.

"The fact of the matter is because there are so many of these folks, we have to put the resources in," he said.

Gaudet asked if there will be a time veterans receive an insurance card they can use locally for medical treatment, rather than having to rely on the VA health care system.

"That's basically Medicare for all. That's not very popular with a lot of people right now," Loebsack said.

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