My big brother Lonnie served two tours in Vietnam between 1968 and 1973. During his time in country he was exposed to a lot, including Agent Orange. The war is now relegated to our history books but he and others are still fighting its effects on their body and mind-- and in some cases are now forced to fight against a system designed to help them.
In 2014 the Veterans Administration came under heavy fire for lengthy wait times by veterans seeking medical care for service related injuries. At that time, Lonnie shared his experience with a Minneapolis reporter.
"Lee, a 65-year-old Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, wears the scar as a badge of honor. He had to wait five months for open heart surgery and said he endured a circuitous ordeal of mixed signals, runarounds and missed cues to get it." June 17, 2014 Star Tribune.
I just asked him if the situation has improved. He says the clinic in Hibbing is basically a clearing house to send Veterans to the VA Hospital and the contract workers are over loaded with cases, but are doing as much as they are allowed under current guidelines. Lonnie added that a friend of his in Hibbing, with a worst story than his, is currently fighting with the Veterans Administration for services.
These are the stories I will seek out during my travels in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. I know there are more than two sides to every story. Using my skills as a journalist I will listen to all of the stakeholders, including the experts working in the field to develop legislation designed to improve our delivery of care for the men and women who served us.
Our veterans swore an oath to protect us. We must have their backs to ensure their dignity is preserved, their hard won benefits are received in a timely manner and their voices are heard loud and clear in Washington. It is a promise I made to my brother Lonnie at the start of this campaign. It is a promise I make to all our veterans young and old.