Congressman O'Halleran visits local vets
SHOW LOW — At VFW Post 9907 in Show Low, veterans held a roundtable discussion with Congressman Tom O’Halleran on Feb. 20, about concerns they have over healthcare, mental health care, housing, veteran’s court and other issues that can be improved with federal assistance. O’Halleran promised to work on several problems the locals brought to him.
Post 9907 Commander, Jon Dahl, said he was very happy with the congressman’s staff coming to his Stanford Store at the “Y” for local community input and offered the congressman a local platform to spread his word on what he can do for the locals, saying, “I’d like to invite you to bring a tent and a sign and come out there yourself sometime and bring more attention to the fact that you are there.”
Dahl noted that O’Halleran’s aides, Keith Brekhus and Rochelle Lapaca, both come to his store to learn from the community about their needs. Dahl said Lapaca holds meetings with locals at his store every first Wednesday of each month.
Veteran Samantha Rodriguez was one of the first to speak to the congressman. “My husband and I were both in the Army … I had to wait three months to get approved to get an appointment with the local VA and they gave me a nurse practitioner, who was unwilling or unable to help me … she told me I had to make another appointment with someone else, and I left there in tears. I’d like to see a little more care given to women veterans up here on the Mountain.” “The next time you go, if I’m in town or the area, give me a call and I’ll go with you,” said O’Halleran, we’ll see how you get treated next time.”
Rodriguez said she is glad to see the military becoming more diverse with minorities and especially women and hopes that the military recognizes that and starts making better healthcare available for female veterans, especially up here on the Mountain. O’Halleran said they are trying to put together a roundtable for women veteran’s to address the subject in the northern part of the district.
“I don’t see why they would treat veterans this way, especially when it’s an organization that is there specifically to care for our veterans. They should be guiding you on ways to help you, not telling you what you’re doing wrong,” said O’Halleran — “We’ll see if we can’t find ways of addressing this with the VA, because there’s no reason for that. If that happens to you, get a hold of our office.”
Coast Guard vet, David Peelman, said he’d like to second Rodriguez’s comments on the lack of women veteran’s care, saying his wife also was made to feel less than worthy trying to get care. Peelman said his wife ended up saying, “Why even bother trying to get care through the VA.”
Rodriguez also said her husband had an ambulance take him to the emergency room and he didn’t have it pre-approved and she was worried about getting a huge bill. O’Halleran said they are supposed to notify the hospital that they are a veteran, but they don’t have to wait for an ER visit. He noted that one constituent got an $80,000 bill in Prescott for the same thing and is trying to fix it.
“But people who are sick shouldn’t be expected to deal with paperwork when they are in the middle of a medical crisis, we are working on fixing this situation with the VA, we have a truly bi-partisan commission on this, It’s about getting service to you and taking care of those who do service for our country,” said O’Halleran.
The congressman also said that snowbirds (seasonal winter residents) come to the state and overwhelm the VA system in Arizona to the point that no one can get appointments quickly enough.
“Why is it that there is such a difference in veterans’ care between different states?” asked Gordon Morelehem who said going to the Phoenix VA is like going to a drab, gray prison with roll-down metal-cage doors on the doctor’s offices. “Last time I was there, I saw men urinating in their pants, waiting for their appointments. My brother-in-law in Minnesota doesn’t have these problems at his VA.”
VFW State Senior Vice-Commander Tom Judd was also there and took detailed notes during the visit. Judd is a member of the local Post 9907 as well.
O’Halleran said he is working on the homeless vets’ issue as well and had just come from a visit to Walking Down Ranch in Lakeside that day. He said there is a new shelter for homeless vets in Flagstaff as well, but he was “amazed” to find out that our government can’t build one on tribal lands.
Some spoke on the lack of local ROTC programs that help kids understand and train them in the value for service. Others said they wished that civics classes would become mandatory to teach our children about the importance a democracy means to our country and how it functions.
O’Halleran also said he intends to write a bill that keeps service families together as well, saying it is one of our core principles in this country.
“They should not separate families that serve. We need to find a way to keep those service personnel and their significant-other to be able to move and be together.”