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June 20. 2014 5:52PM

Veterans urged to help push Congress for private care

MANCHESTER — U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte urged hundreds of veterans Friday to keep the pressure on Congress to reach a final bill that would allow many of them to receive medical treatment at private medical facilities.

“All of your voices matter to get this over the finish line,” Ayotte told more than 600 people attending the annual state American Legion convention at the Radisson.

The Senate and House passed similar measures that are in a conference committee to settle on one bill. A provision inserted by Ayotte, a Republican and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, would allow veterans in states without full-service Veterans Administration hospitals to seek care from private providers if they live more than 20 miles from the nearest VA. That would include nearly all veterans in New Hampshire, Ayotte said.

Ayotte also praised the staff at the Manchester VA Center, where her 98-year-old grandfather, John Sullivan of Nashua, spent the last few weeks of his life in hospice care. Sullivan, who died Monday, was a World II veteran serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps and left as an E-6, staff sergeant. He was an airborne radio equipment operator and completed 91 combat missions.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, who underwent heart bypass surgery in a non-VA hospital a few months back, said veterans shouldn’t have to wait for similar care.

“The mayor should not be able to get any speedier access than any vet,” Gatsas said.

Dave Hargreaves, an Army veteran from Derry who served in Vietnam, said the Senate bill is a start.

“It’s an option we don’t have,” he said in an interview.

He said he has visited friends at the VA Center in the Boston area and seeing people locally would be “a lot better, let alone the mileage (saved).”

Gov. Maggie Hassan discussed the many state programs aiding veterans and how much of an asset veterans are to the state’s economy.

“We all know that our veterans have the experience and unique skill set, including a penchant for leadership, collaboration and hard work that is an asset to any employer,” said Hassan, who announced she was in the process of joining the ladies auxiliary. (Ayotte said she is a lifetime member.)

The convention runs through Sunday morning, with elections and committee meetings slated for today.

Receiving the legion’s law enforcement officer of the year award was Manchester police Sgt. Brandon Murphy. The 10-year department veteran applied a tourniquet to the bleeding leg of fellow officer Dan Doherty, who was shot in March 2012.

American Legion state commander Maurice Anderson said Murphy “administered life-saving” first aid to Doherty.

Manchester police Chief Dave Mara praised Murphy, a current SWAT team leader, who also helped hunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in Massachusetts last year.

“Whenever there’s a problem, he’s the first one we turn to,” Mara said.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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