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Visiting with Veterans: Peterson tours Bemidji VA clinic

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., listens to veterans from local VFW Post 1260 as he visits the Bemidji Veterans Administration clinic Wednesday. Veterans facing the camera are Dan Haugen, left, and Kelly Booge. Facing away is Post Commander Bruce Malterud. (Zach Kayser | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., toured the Bemidji Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic on Wednesday, conferring with clinic leadership and with local VFW members on veterans' issues.

Peterson walked around the clinic's offices, stopping in to chat with the VA staffers.

"It's a great facility," he told reporters afterward. "They were having some problems keeping doctors and so forth, but that's been resolved now."

He acknowledged the the clinic is running short on space but said he'd do everything he could to help them find additional space when their lease expires.

Peterson, who previously served on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, praised the VA's health care system as a whole.

"Some would say it's the best health care system in the country," he said.

He said the VA was facing difficulties in contending with the overwhelming amount of health issues from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the organization seems to be dealing with the problem aided by new resources from Congress. The "bigger issue" confronting the VA is the backlog of veterans' benefit claims, Peterson said.

"We need to shake that up like we shook up the (VA) health care thing 10-12 years ago," he said. "I know (the Veterans Affairs Committee has) been having a lot of hearings, and trying to hold people who are responsible for this accountable."