Butterfield hears from vets on VA issues
DURHAM — U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., held a veterans community forum Tuesday at the downtown Durham County Library to hear about local veterans issues.
Butterfield related how he was drafted into the U.S. Army while a student at N.C. Central University in 1968, and how his father, a World War I veteran, told him being in the military would make him a better man. It did, Butterfield said, and he served two years.
“There’s nothing more important than to serve our veterans,” Butterfield said, emphasizing the need for a strong military.
“We’ve had some problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs over the years, but I hope that’s improving,” he said. Butterfield talked about increases in funding during the Obama administration and changes made to wait times for VA Medical Center services.
“We have not solved the problem, but dramatically improved the wait,” he said, and are “moving in the right direction.”
Lois Harvin-Ravin, director of the Durham County Veteran Services Office, moderated a discussion with Butterfield, Stephen Black of the Durham VA Medical Center, Brian Ward of the VA Winston-Salem Regional Office and Saul McCloyen, supervisor of the Veterans Employment Program in Durham for the N.C. Department of Commerce Division of Workforce Solutions. N.C. Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, Democratic leader of the N.C. House, also attended the discussion.
Panelists offered to go over specific veterans’ claims after the discussion and talked more broadly about services offered to local veterans. Ward acknowledged that while compensation claims response times have been addressed, the process for claims appeals “takes way too long. We are pushing to get rid of the oldest appeals first,” he said.
Butterfield responded to a question about a lack of Cost of Living Adjustment increases for disabled veterans, known as COLAs. He talked about Democrats and Republicans fighting over how to reduce the deficit through tax increases or spending reductions. He said that automatic cuts in 2013 after the sequestration included the Department of Veterans Affairs. For veterans’ COLAs, Butterfield wants it built into the law.
“We don’t know who the next president will be,” he said. He would support a legislative fix to making COLAs permanent. “I don’t think it ought to be subject to political winds.” Butterfield said he would support an increase.
The forum also included discussion on affordable housing for veterans and the need to have enough apartments available in Durham for those veterans with HUD vouchers.
Butterfield said the discussion was helpful and that he pledged to take their concerns back to his office to work on them.
Black of the Durham VAMC said that Raleigh is the fastest growing area for veterans and that an outpatient site will open in Raleigh this year. Butterfield said that over the next decade, veterans will be more geographically concentrated and that younger, poor and rural veterans depend the most on the VA.