Aide to Senator Burr hears veterans' concerns in Salisbury
By Lee Ann Sides Garrettnews@salisburypost.com
Dr. Grace Liem knows firsthand about veterans’ issues. Liem has a PhD. in public health and works as a nurse practitioner in Wilkes and Cabarrus counties.
“I care for veterans who are too far from care for free,” says Liem. “Our veterans should get the best care and we should not waste a nano-second.”
On Saturday, Liem and a group of veterans shared their concerns with Kevin Kane, military legislative assistant with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr’s office. Burr is a ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs and the Armed Service committees. Kane wants to work closely with veterans to maintain a dialogue and understand veterans’ concerns.
“This is the best way we can get a feel for what we need to do in both the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration,” Kane says.
The meeting drew only six people, but both Kane and local veterans’ advocate Rodney Cress agree the dialogues will continue.
“We plan to meet quarterly,” Cress says. “We had 15 people at the last meeting. We’re still trying to find a good time for everyone.”
Kane says the meetings are working.
“As a result of one of these dialogues,” he says, “I was able to secure an amendment to allow military fathers 10 days leave to spend with their new babies.”
Burr recently signed a resolution which designated March 30 as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” as well as sponsoring bills that would give veterans, survivors and dependents dental insurance and protection for veterans’ gun ownership rights.
Kane, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, listened as local veterans discussed concerns about VA healthcare and policy as well as survival in tough economic times.
“In today’s economy, older veterans are coming back into the workforce,” said John Stanley. “I have a college degree. They tell me I am not trained for today’s economy. Regardless of what I’ve done in the last 35 years, I didn’t know PowerPoint.”
Bill Wallin, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, discussed how using the GI Bill to get a college degree took him out of the running for military jobs and forced him to compete with everyone else.
Veterans were critical of the VA’s budget problems. “There is so much administration,” says Liem. “The administration takes up all the money and there’s only pennies left for care.”
Kane says the data the VA uses to project how much money it needs is always outdated and dictated by internal VA policy.
“Change has to come from the top down,” says Wallin. “Not the bottom up.”
Kane says he is committed to talking to veterans and addressing concerns as much as he can. “I take that responsibility very seriously,” he says.