Rep. Dave Loebsack was back in Newton on Tuesday and was once again doing outreach with local veterans. Loebsack was in town on May 30 to present Paul Brown with the medals he earned in Vietnam at the Newton American Legion Post 111.
Both Brown and Loebsack were present again at the post and were joined by a multitude of veterans from different eras for a roundtable discussion.
Loebsack and Jasper County Veteran’s Affairs Director Chris Chartier served as hosts.
“Just getting the story out with the veterans and the issues with the VA is really important,” Loeback said. “We need public support to do the things that we have to do to make sure that the veterans get the services that they are entitled to.”
Loebsack said that part of the reason he was there was to help get more resources for veterans, which is something that he said has bipartisan support.
“We have come together on veterans’ issues,” Loebsack said.
Some of the things he would like to accomplish for vets include alleviating the backlog of disability claims, making more vets and their families aware of their benefits, and creating employer incentives for hiring vets.
“We are in a situation where we will have tens of thousands of folks coming home soon,” Loebsack said of Afghanistan troops. “And we have a system that is already overloaded with veterans and will be even more so.”
“I think veterans are a priority,” Loebsack said. “At least, in my mind they are.”
After Loebsack’s initial statement, Chartier informed the crowd that it was a completely open forum and that if anyone had grievances, this was the opportunity to express them.
“I got out in 1970 and for medical benefits, there was no limit,” Bob Berndt said. “I applied ten plus years ago and I got denied because of my investments and they said my income was too high. The only thing we can do is get divorced and give everything to your wife to receive benefits. It’s not fair.”
“When I got drafted they didn’t ask me if I wanted to go,” Berndt said. “Because we were frugal and saved money we can’t receive benefits? To me, there’s a financial obligation from the federal government to provide benefits.”
Most of the veterans present agreed with Berndt’s sentiments.
“They didn’t ask us what our income was when we were drafted,” Former Post 111 Legion Commander Wallace Schermerhorn said. “Now when it’s our turn, they go, ‘Oh, you make too much money.’ It’s wrong Congressman. It’s wrong.”
“I never used the VA and I tried in 2010,” Kenneth Landgrebe said. “I found out after I got the card that I have to pay for everything. I can’t qualify because of income.”
Landgrebe said he went to the VA after he was diagnosed with cancer and talked about how he had worked two jobs ever since he left the service and instead of “driving new cars” he bought land. He said that he recently had to sell off 40 acres to help pay for treatments.
“They stole my rights; they talk about honoring our veterans and want me to stand on some parade float. I just want my rights back,” Landgrebe said.
A majority of the veterans frustrations with the current way benefits are provided, stem from the Veterans Benefit Act of 2003. The act changed the way benefits were received for future vets and for those who hadn’t signed up for VA benefits before it was enacted.
Loebsack said that he thinks that they need to keep engaging and watching for governmental oversights.
While health benefits were the primary topic of discussion during the roundtable, other topics included family benefits, sexual assault in the military, mental health, and the incoming influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’m glad this issue is coming to the forum and I think it’s an important issue,” Loebsack said of sexual assault. “We know that it’s an epidemic, we know that. It’s got to be a resolution to this thing. For one thing, all of these terrible wrongs that are being done have to righted.
“And second, if this doesn’t get taken care of, we are going to have a heck of a time recruiting people into the military,” Loebsack continued. “We need a military. We need to defend our country from enemies from the outside. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, in terms of the concern people have about joining. It’s really unfortunate.”
Once the roundtable discussion ended, Loebsack thanked the crowd and stayed to answer individual questions. He also offered the services of his staff members to any veterans in need of help.
Any veteran, who is need of help, may contact Virginia Stratton, who Chartier described as “amazing” in terms of helping vets, at (319) 351-0789.
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.