Jill McLaughlin Photo
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, center, talks with local veterans at the Roswell Veterans’ Memorial Hall Tuesday.
Record Staff Writer
A group of Roswell veterans were given a rare opportunity Tuesday to speak directly to U.S. congressional representatives about important health care and personal issues at a town hall meeting.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and U.S. Rep Jeff Miller, R-Fla., also the U.S. House Veteran’s Affairs Committee Chairman, answered several questions during a nearly two-hour town hall meeting at the American Legion Post 28 Veterans’ Memorial Hall.
The open forum allowed a number of men and women to talk about their challenges of getting local treatment, medical coverage issues, post-traumatic stress concerns and long-running struggles with the Veterans Administration.
“We really appreciate you all coming,” Pearce told the group.
Pearce and Miller made the stop after first visiting the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque earlier that morning.
“It is of the utmost importance that our veterans are given the care and treatment they deserve,” Pearce said in a statement earlier that day. “My office is committed to continuing its work with local VA leadership to improve care and communicate on behalf of our veterans. I am glad to have Chairman Miller joining me, so that he can better understand the issues faced by New Mexico’s veterans as we work to find solutions in Washington.”
The congressman heard from several people about medical challenges, and their troubles of finding local care. Many travel to Albuquerque, sometimes waiting months to get appointments. Some are not reimbursed for travel expenses.
Others told about their struggles to be covered for mental health issues for themselves or their adult children.
Pearce encouraged them to stand together to push for change.
“You all are members of veterans organizations,” Pearce told them. “You can be those independent voices from out here.”
One woman asked for help for her older daughter who was unable to get help for traumatic events in the 70s. Pearce recalled a case when he was able to get assistance for one veteran who waited 27 years for a resolution.
“We don’t just look at these,” he said. “We work hard everyday for the people of New Mexico.”
Miller explained the continuing difficulties with mental health documentation, even though the Congress has increased appropriations substantially in the past few years.
“We have appropriated every dollar they’ve asked for,” Miller said. “It’s a very personal issue, but a very real one. This country did not do what it should have done. It takes a strong man and woman to stand up and ask for what you need.”
Telemedicine is a promising new technology, though, and should provide many of the services in the future, Miller said.
Pearce said he would push to get approval for a Congressional field hearing set for the region in the next year. The discussion would center on how to redesign the VA for rural areas and develop a management plan.
One of the challenges for medical care in New Mexico is the state’s size compared to its population density.
“We just don’t have the population density,” Pearce said. “It’s the reason we need to push the VA for a different model.”
Miller agreed with the plan for a field hearing.
“Steve asked and I said, ‘absolutely.’”
Pearce said he would get a working group together soon to start the field day process. It was important to get local input, he said.
“The lack of focus and attention (on veterans’ concerns) needs addressing,” Pearce said. “I think we heard that loud and clear.”
Pearce and Miller later met with Mayor Del Jurney and New Mexico Department of Veterans Services Secretary Timothy Hale.