CRAMER: Veterans Concerns Well-Served by State Advisory Board
Congressman Kevin Cramer reviewed accomplishments by the 114th Congress that affect veterans and the military during a meeting of his Veterans Advisory Board today in Bismarck. The 114th Congress began in January 2015 and concludes at the end of the year.
Cramer’s Veterans Advisory Board consists of a diverse cross section of North Dakota’s veteran population. The group receives legislative updates and offers advice and feedback on issues that affect veterans and their families. Cramer said these meetings help him serve all North Dakota veterans, and the success of this board has received “best practices” recognition in Congress as a model for statewide veteran outreach.
“I value the time these state veterans give to attend these board meetings and for the ongoing feedback they provide on all issues related to veterans and the military,” said Cramer. “Because of their input and involvement, they help me serve North Dakota veterans better in Congress.”
At today’s meeting Cramer reported on the Military Construction and Veterans Administration appropriations bill that passed Congress in late September. It addressed several concerns about services for veterans, including providing additional funding for shortening the processing backlog for disability applications and improving digital technology to scan agency records.
Another bill that recently passed Congress and signed by the President last month is the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2016. This bill extends several expiring programs at the Veterans Administration (VA) for another year. These programs provide services in the areas of health care, veterans' benefits and homeless veterans.
The new law includes programs that collect co-payments for hospital and nursing home care, provide support services for caregivers, recover third party cost of care for non-service connected disabilities, and offer child care for veterans receiving health care, transportation grants for rural veterans, counseling retreats for women veterans and use of community-based organizations to ensure veterans are receiving care and benefits.
Cramer said he worked with the VA to establish a Veterans Cemetery in North Dakota and was pleased when the announcement was made in July that one would be built north of Fargo on Cass County Road 20. “This is a victory for the veterans in our region to have a final resting place close to their home,” he said.
Current casework his staff is handling for state veterans includes appointment scheduling through the Veterans Choice program, the backlog at the VA for processing appeals, and means testing for veterans to qualify for medical services.
The Veterans Choice Program allows eligible veterans to receive health care in their communities, rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. Cramer said the VA is addressing the scheduling problems by taking more control of scheduling appointments, and looking into new contractors for scheduling in the future.
Lack of parking for patients at the Fargo VA Hospital has been a concern during a construction project there. Cramer said administrators are working to find more parking accommodations and are considering constructing a parking ramp.
Members of the Veterans Advisory Board are Clinton Romesha, Medal of Honor Recipient and North Dakota Entrepreneur; Lt. Colonel Davina French, Government Affairs Officer for the North Dakota National Guard; John Hanson, State Commander for the North Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW); Rusty Ouart, Purple Heart recipient; Warren Tobin, Department Adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans; Lonnie Wangen, Commissioner of Veterans Affairs for the State of North Dakota; Uma Hoffman of Steffes Corp.; Tyler Okerlund of the UND Center for Innovation; Eric Marts of WDAY Heroes’ of the Heartland; Chris Zanon of Fortis Energy, and Marlys Morgenstern of Job Service North Dakota.