Veterans voice concerns, seek help with unmet needsThey sat there — all 11 of them — solemn, stoic, determined. Some wore baseball hats with the name of their branch of the service on them. One proudly displayed the vest of a disabled American veteran. It would probably be safe to say that all of them were easily into their 70s, and it was apparent by the set of their shoulders that they were there for a reason.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
They sat there — all 11 of them — solemn, stoic, determined. Some wore baseball hats with the name of their branch of the service on them. One proudly displayed the vest of a disabled American veteran. It would probably be safe to say that all of them were easily into their 70s, and it was apparent by the set of their shoulders that they were there for a reason.
The occasion was Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s “Honoring Our Veterans Tour,” making the first stop of the day Tuesday at the Cloquet National Guard Army. The reason for the visit was to highlight resources available to veterans and their families.
Klobuchar was not there in person, but she addressed those gathered through a pre-recorded video. She acknowledged that America’s veterans “still have some serious challenges” when it comes to overcoming red tape and bureaucratic obstacles — such as the veteran who was denied the right to VA benefits after a mental health misdiagnosis resulted in a dishonorable discharge, or the veteran who had a leg amputated after being injured in Iraq and was twice denied disability benefits because the government said he had “no proof.”
“We need to be vigilant in seeing that our veterans don’t slip through the cracks,” stated Klobuchar.
Klobuchar’s staff members at Tuesday’s event went on to discuss debt issues, paperwork backlogs, access to educational and employment benefits and homelessness.
But it wasn’t until the morning’s formal presentation had concluded that the handful of veterans in the audience gathered round to bring their personal issues to the forefront. John Grassinger of Duluth, a 38-year veteran of the Air National Guard, called attention to those veterans — including himself — who he said have been short-changed by the government’s windfall elimination provision (WEP). The WEP reduces the Social Security benefits of workers who also had pension benefits from employment not covered by Social Security. He explained that he and his military buddies fall into the window of those serving prior to 1983 or after 2011 who are only getting half the Social Security benefits as those who served in between those times.
“It’s taken me 15 years of trying to get my full Social Security benefits,” Grassinger said, “and I’m still not there.”
He went on to point out that his wife, as most of the other women of the era, stayed at home, ran the household and took care of the children. He said the WEP’s companion piece, the Government Pension Offset (GPO), reduces public employees’ Social Security spousal or survivor benefits by two-thirds of their public pension.
“That means she would essentially be left with only half the Social Security benefits she should be entitled to,” he said.
John Niemi, a 38-year veteran of the Air National Guard, including four years of active duty, likewise voiced his frustration with only getting half the Social Security benefits he feels he has coming to him.
“It’s just not right,” he said.
Ralph Andres of Duluth, a veteran of the Army, Air Force and Air National Guard, brought a letter with him for Senator Klobuchar, asking that she help block amnesty to illegal immigrants.
“If illegal immigrants are allowed to be treated as citizens of this country,” he said, “the burden on the Social Security system will make it tough for the rest of us.”
Pat Northrup of Cloquet questioned if there is any sort of support available to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who have ended up in the court system. She expressed frustration over the fact that veterans who find themselves in such situations are often sent straight to prison without taking into account the cause of their mental health condition.
Klobuchar’s staff members exchanged contact information with those who requested assistance, promising to put them in touch with the proper people and resources to help them address their issues.
The tour was set to continue with visits in Virginia, Grand Rapids, Bemidji, Wadena and Little Falls.