MARSHALL - There are plenty of things being done well to help support Minnesota veterans, area residents said during a listening session Tuesday. However, both residents and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., agreed there was still more to do.
Klobuchar visited with area residents to discuss veterans' issues during a visit to Marshall on Tuesday. Klobuchar also presented Lyon County Commissioner Bob Fenske with an American flag which was flown over the U.S. Capitol building earlier this month.
Klobuchar said health care for veterans will continue to be an important issue, as military servicemen and women return from Iraq and Afghanistan. The increase in numbers of young veterans has meant strain for the nation's Veterans Affairs system, she said.
On the other hand, Klobuchar said there have been some positive accomplishments by lawmakers for Minnesota veterans. Congress recently passed a bill restoring promised leave time to 49,000 U.S. troops who served in Kuwait, including members of the Red Bulls, Minnesota's National Guard unit. The bill was drafted in response to a Defense Department policy change reducing soldiers' paid leave.
Lyon County Veterans Services Officer Terry Wing said there were several "developing issues" facing area veterans, especially younger vets returning from overseas.
"Minnesota has done an outstanding job welcoming veterans back with open arms," Wing said. Programs through the G.I. Bill and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development have been a big help, but there were areas where more could still be done. Health care was one such area. Only about half of veterans eligible for disability compensation benefits through the VA are filing for them, Wing said. The claims process can also be a long one, taking anywhere from 90 to 120 days or sometimes more, he said.
Dick Krueger, a member of the Disabled American Veterans organization, said the VA health care system "does a very good job generally," but that medical records transfers were lagging.
Jeff Gay, of the area Military Family Assistance Center, said more education for southwest Minnesota employers could be helpful in supporting military members and their families during and after employment.
"It makes a big difference when people really understand what's going on," Klobuchar said.
Gay said his work also deals a lot with the Family Military Leave Act.
"I wish there was a little more teeth in it for spouses," he said. It can sometimes be difficult for the spouse of a deployed soldier to get leave from work for family reasons, he said.
Klobuchar said lawmakers are working to secure more resources to help veterans. Some possibilities include taking soldiers' military skills into account in finishing their education, getting professional licenses or finding a job after deployment.
"We're trying to give them credit for what they've done," Klobuchar said. Klobuchar said she's also heard from veterans advocates who suggest beginning job placement programs before soldiers come home from deployment.