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Klobuchar staff meets with veterans

FAIRMONT — Members of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s staff visited the Martin County Library in Fairmont on Tuesday to hold a discussion with the public about veterans services.

Also present were representatives from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, county Veterans Service offices and the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Several community members and veterans attended.

Chuck Ackman, Klo-buchar’s regional outreach director for southern Minnesota, described the agenda for the gathering.

“We’re here to have a conversation about the availability of benefits for veterans and what’s working and what’s not working,” he said.

A video message from Klobuchar played. She said she wants to hear directly from veterans and their families, which is why her office is holding the tour. Stops include Jackson, Albert Lea, Rochester and Winona.

Kurt Johnson works in Klobuchar’s Minneapolis office. He specializes in VA and military issues.

“I can talk a lot about policies but really my job here is to listen to you and keep my ear to the ground so we can bring this information back to D.C.,” he said.

Ben Johnson, legislative director for the Minnesota Department of Veterans affairs, shared some legislative updates, including an effort that affected Fairmont.

“An additional piece of legislation that passed this year was legacy funding for a veterans memorial project here in Fairmont,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing I like to brag about. This community is the recipient of some hard work from your local elected officials to finish the project here in town.”

A representative of Veterans Employment Services said its main outreach is to veterans who have significant barriers to employment. The office also assists spouses of veterans. The representative said many veterans feel like companies do not consider their veteran status or that their status is hurting them more than it’s helping.

One community member asked about billing issues he has been dealing with over the past year from an Agent Orange-related health incident in which an ambulance had to be called. He made phone calls to various organizations only to be told over and over that “it’s being considered.” He finally called the White House to share his problem.

“We need a resolution between VA and Mayo. This hits south-central and southeast Minnesota incredibly hard,” said Deb Grote, the Watonwan County Veterans Service Officer.

Martin County Veterans Service Officer Doug Landsteiner was asked if he believes things have improved since new federal legislation went into effect, specifically changes made to the Veterans Choice Program. Landsteiner said things are better, but there are glitches.

One person present expressed frustration, saying the VA program has switched several times in recent years, and even employees at the VA are not up to date.

Scheduling and billing issues seem to be the main points of concern.

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