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Franken staffers, veterans’ advocates meet

BEMIDJI — Legislation that would improve the well-being of veterans was the center of discussion between lawmakers and community members during a forum here Thursday morning.

Staff members from Sen. Al Franken’s, D-Minn., office met with area veterans and veterans’ advocates at the Law Enforcement Center boardroom to explain two pieces of veteran’s legislation and to hear suggestions from those in attendance on how to improve the bills.

“The point here is we want to hear from y’all,” said Nicole Ly, a constituent services representative who handles many veterans’ affairs issues.

The stop in Bemidji was one of 19 meetings being held across the state to raise awareness on veteran’s affairs legislation.

Introducing the first bill — The Quicker Benefits Delivery Act — Ly told audience members the bill is designed to achieve exactly what the title implies. Ly said the bill would save time and resources, would make greater use of private, non-VA medical evidence, expand the use of VA authorities to rapidly award partial or temporary benefits and increase flexibility to deliver GI Bill benefits.

“We heard from veterans who have submitted two or three claims for a range of medical conditions, but in this, case a veteran will have a minimum claim of benefits,” she said.

Ly also spoke about a bill Franken introduced in 2011 to further improve health care access for rural veterans. According to Valerie Gravseth, northwest field representative for Franken, 40 percent of veterans live in rural areas.

Greg Remus, Hubbard County’s Veteran’s Service Officer, highlighted transportation problems in getting rural veterans to their appointments in Bemidji or Fargo.

According to Remus, making the most out of service vans would help to cut costs of running a veteran’s transportation service. He said one way to do this is to allow the public to use the van service, where currently only veterans and their caretakers can utilize the service.

Continuing the conversation of health care, Scotty Allison, the Beltrami County Veteran’s Service Officer, mentioned the need to provide veterans with a veteran’s home in the northwestern part of the state.

“The 16 counties in northwest Minnesota support a veteran’s home,” he said. “(U.S. Sen. Amy) Klobuchar supports us, and we want yours (Sen. Franken’s support), too.”