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Ayotte says work at veterans facilities in North Country critical for care

By Debra Thornblad
Special to the Union Leader

February 20. 2014 9:18PM

BERLIN — U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s trip Thursday to the North Country focused on veterans’ health care needs and the state delegation’s efforts to improve access to them.

Ayotte, a Republican, met staff and volunteers at the Vet Center in Gorham in the morning to tour the center and hear concerns. In the afternoon, she held a town meeting at the VFW in Berlin.

“The work they’re doing providing counseling to our vets, this is critical,” she said of the center. “Many have done multiple tours and need our support.”

While the Vet Center was doing a good job with the mental health side of things, there’s a big gap with providing medical services. The closest full service medical facility is in White River Junction, Vt. There are Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOCS) in Littleton and Conway, but they are one to two-and-a-half hours way, depending on where in the North Country a veteran lives.

New Hampshire is the only state that effectively has no full-service health care facility for veterans, Ayotte said. She said she uses the term “effectively” because Alaska’s in the same boat, but does have military facilities in the state that can provide services.

She called having veterans have to drive as far as they do “unfair.”

No full-service facility

She said New Hampshire’s congressional delegation has written to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki outlining the problems, and she recently wrote a second letter to Shinseki.

Ayotte said while the delegation would love a full-service health facility for veterans in the North Country, they have asked Shinseki to at least approve CBOCS for the hospital in Colebrook and Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin.

“As a delegation, we’ve been working together. It’s been a bipartisan push,” she said. “He hasn’t said no. We just haven’t gotten an answer.”

The afternoon town meeting addressed a wider set of issues, mainly revolving around her concerns about where the national deficit was heading. While it was down somewhat this year, to $680 billion, it is still a big number that equates to $147,000 per household. It is on track to reach $27 trillion over the next decade, she said.

“The debt is a bipartisan problem,” she said, noting both President Bush and President Obama have added to it. “It will take two parties working together to get us out.”

“We need a grand deal,” she said, one that would stabilize debt, strengthen entitlements (Medicare and Social Security, which are predicted to be insolvent in 2026 and 2033, respectively), and include pro-growth tax reform.

Legislative push

She reviewed some of the legislation she had supported, including a balanced budget amendment, a cap on spending in line with a 40-year historic average and a duplication elimination act (which would get rid of or consolidate things like three offices for inspecting catfish).

She opposed legislation that would have “paid for more government spending on the backs of combat-injured service personnel.” This would have hurt current service personnel, and she supported legislation that grandfathered those serving now.

She also supports legislation that will require anyone claiming an additional child tax credit to have a Social Security number for that child. There have been abuses, she said, people submitting a claim for children that didn’t exist or who were not living in this country.

She also supports legislation that will restore what is considered full-time employment relating to receiving health insurance to 40 hours (at present it is 30 hours under the Affordable Health Care Act).

Ayotte fielded questions about health care for veterans.

Ayotte was asked if she has considered running for President.

“It’s such a privilege to serve New Hampshire,” she said. “I really want to work on issues here.”

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