Rep. Greg Walden, appearing at the American Legion in La Grande Friday, discusses problems veterans are facing, including a VA backlog of several months. Walden said he and Congress are working to address the issues and keep serving veterans. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
During a Veterans Day weekend tour of his district, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, honored Byron Whipple and Linda McIntyre for their service to Union and Wallowa counties.
McIntyre, Wallowa County’s veterans service officer, said she helps vets get the health care they need whether it’s establishing a primary caregiver or getting them plugged into the Veterans Affairs local tele-health care facility located at the Stewardship Center in Enterprise. She said she is an advocate for vets and helps them file claims for disability benefits.
“The paperwork can be confusing and difficult, and some vets give up,” McIntyre said after she was presented the award Saturday.
Another difficulty for a lot of vets, McIntyre said, is their anti-government sentiment.
“Some won’t come to do a claim, but they need to because they deserve it,” she said.
McIntyre, who has been in the position for almost five years, plans to retire in a few months.
“I want the person who takes over to carry on and help veterans even more,” she said.
Walden told veterans in La Grande and Enterprise that a variety of house bills in the works try to help veterans get claims processed quicker. He said $725,000 in claims have been held up for more than 125 days in the U.S., including $11,450 in Oregon alone during the same timeframe.
“The Veterans Administration’s human resources are being charged with examining the root causes,” Walden said. “We’re also working to make sure we help veterans when they get home.”
The House of Representatives is asking the VA to establish economic opportunities for veterans transitioning into civilian life.
Walden said some private companies have stepped up to hire veterans first and the Association of American Railroads has an aggressive program to hire vets.
He said one bill in the House, if passed into law, will help veterans go back to school and another charges the Veterans Administration to include an appeal application with every benefits denial.
La Grande dentist Steve McLean is awarded for his service to vets. McLean provided service to a veteranís widow in need without hesitation. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
The House has also asked that Reservists and National Guardsmen be granted honorary veterans status because a large majority of those involved in the nation’s recent wars were not full-time, active military.
Walden and Union County Veterans Service Officer Byron Whipple on Friday recognized La Grande dentist Steve McLean for his service to veterans.
Whipple said he approached McLean, an Army veteran, about providing services to a distressed veteran’s widow “who didn’t have a penny” and had been surviving off of soup after losing a partial.
“He said, ‘I don’t care,’” Whipple said. “Without hesitation he said to send her in.”
Just after that award was presented, Walden surprised the veterans service officer with an award for himself.
Walden said Whipple deserves to be recognized for going above and beyond to help veterans and their families.
During the meeting at American Legion Post 43, Whipple raised concerns of Union County veterans, including safe travel during winter months to VA clinics. Whipple said veterans, in order to receive reimbursements for travel, have to drive far and in some cases in some unsafe conditions to get treatment.
“My veterans have to go over Tollgate,” he said. Others have to go to Portland while equivalent services are available locally.
“We need an efficient delivery system,” Walden said. “We still got a lot of work to do, and we know it.”