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Sunday, May 1, 2016

'No promises' in battle for a veteran clinic in Storm Lake

Monday, March 27, 2006

If they listen, that's half the fight. Or so Buena Vista County Veterans Advocate Clint Hoferman hopes.

He's just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. to plead with congressmen on issues to help area veterans - not the least of which is a long-sought Veterans Administration clinic to be located in Storm Lake.

"It was a very full and busy trip. I was able to visit with all of Iowa's senators and representatives or their aides, and I would say that they all listened and were quite attentive," Hoferman said.

On the other hand, all of the politicians carefully skirted making any commitments.

"You never really know if what you say has made any difference until later, when you see what legislation is made and what votes are cast."

Hoferman pressed the VA agenda with each of the Congressmen, and made a point of asking each if they would support the effort for the clinic in Storm Lake.

Currently, veterans have to travel an hour to several hours for veteran's hospital health services, a trip that is a hardship for many with chronic illness or disability. A county van and volunteer drivers are pressed into service.

"We have a tremendous population of aging veterans here - about 1,800 in Buena Vista County and I believe about 15,000 counting the surrounding region. I think it is terribly important that we take care of the people who took care of their country," said Hoferman.

A clinic for Storm Lake was once on the front burner, but the political momentum cooled after Congressman Tom Latham, a key proponent, was separated from the area in redistricting.

Committed or otherwise, the Iowa delegation has not heard the last of it. Hoferman has a handful of Congressional business cards in his pocket, and he says they will be hearing from Buena Vista County veterans.

"We are going on with that, and we will be calling to find out if they are going to do anything about this," Hoferman said of the clinic proposal. "If the need is there, I'm never going to stop trying to get it done for our veterans."

Like other veterans advocates across the country, Hoferman is concerned about benefits on several fronts.

"Of course, the issue is more money. We know we have a lot of people in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting, but we also know good and well that they will be coming home, and a whole lot of them will need VA hospitals, not to mention the growing need as our veterans from previous wars age. We have to do something," Hoferman said.

Again, the politicians are careful in their responses - supportive, but making no promises.

"It's almost funny to watch as you are there. So many people going in any lobbying for their special interest and all wanting something. All you can do is go in and take your turn and try to make an impression about the need out here," Hoferman said.

Over the years, the VA representatives have been ranked among the most effective of lobbying forces. "That's because we don't go ask for the world. We don't get greedy - we ask for the four or five things that are really needed," the local veterans services officer said.

This year's priorities:

* Full funding for VA hospitals - needed to ramp up those facilities to care for those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

* Signing a new GI Bill - touted as a veterans bill for the 21st century, the veterans want to see full tuition and fees covered for returning veterans who want to go to college, as was done in the wake of World War II with great success.

* Pensions - Hoferman said many veterans who have been wounded now only receive 50% or less of the money that was promised to them.

* Widow's Benefits - While a veteran qualifies for $11,000-12,000 in pension benefits, if a man dies, his widow gets a maximum of $7,000 a year. "I don't know how we can expect them to survive. It's wrong. It's a terrible embarrassment for this country," Hoferman said.

* Insuring the VA Disability Compensation Program - to meet needs of current returning soldiers.

* Veterans Employment Services - opposing attempts to reduce employment and job training services for veterans.

Charles Grassley in particular has been a friend to the veterans on many issues, Hoferman said, and fellow senator Tom Harkin has already assigned an aide to come to the Buena Vista County Veterans Services office next month to continue the discussions.

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