11/05/07 — Congressman says veterans health care issues addressed

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Congressman says veterans health care issues addressed

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 5, 2007 1:45 PM

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield said Congress is taking a big step toward honoring a promise of free medical care for life made years ago to military personnel.

A bill has passed the U.S. House and Senate that will increase Veterans Administration spending by $6.7 billion, he said.

"That's the largest single increase in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration," Butterfield told 280 people gathered Saturday for his Military and Veterans Informational Resource Expo and Appreciation Awards Luncheon in the Dillard-Goldsboro Alumni Cultural Center on Poplar Street.

The day-long event included service agency booths showcasing benefits provided to active duty military and retirees. Charellitta Littlejohn manned a booth for the VA Medical Center in Durham. She said the question she heard most often Saturday was: "Why are we doing so much for the veterans who served four years when there are so many who served 20, and we're limited in the healthcare benefits they were promised for the rest of their lives. And where are they?"

Ms. Littlejohn said she told the veterans to find the congressman.

After the program, Butterfield said he hears that complaint often, and he has taken these concerns with him to Washington, D.C.

"We should have total commitment to all of our veterans and retirees," he said. "We made a promise not only to them but to their dependents."

He said the VA spending bill goes a long way in recognizing that commitment. The lawmakers promised not to raise co-payments for medicine. The bill also reduces a 400,000-claim backlog by adding more than 1,100 new processors.

In addition to answering questions, Butterfield also honored several local veterans.

The congressman presented awards of special recognition to seven members of the military: Staff Sgt. Rashe Hall of the Army, Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Lewis of the Navy, Staff Sgt. Cleveland Sanders of the Air Force, Cpl. Bethany Stancell of the Marine Corps, Major Matt Handley of the Army National Guard, Capt. Darryl Blevins of the Air National Guard and Petty Officer Scott Higgins of the Coast Guard.

Butterfield was the master of ceremonies and introduced the keynote speaker, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg.

The XVIII is the corps of the Army designed for rapid deployment anywhere in the world. It is referred to as "America's Contingency Corps" and is the Army's largest warfighting organization.

"Next weekend, our nation pauses to honor our military, many of whom are in harm's way as we speak," Austin said. "They have earned our everlasting respect and our gratitude."

He said that North Carolina has such a large military population -- the third largest in the U.S. -- that when the national leadership calls 911, the phone rings in North Carolina.

"It is clear North Carolina is a major contributor to our nation's defense," he said.

And 11 North Carolinians have died in the current conflict, like Army Sgt. Leonard Simmons of New Bern whose brother quoted him as saying he "would rather fight over there than to have to fight terrorism here."

Austin urged the group to remember the fallen and their families in their prayers, adding that "our country owes them a debt of gratitude."