Keene Sentinel: Kuster meets with local veterans to discuss health care, housing
Local veterans frustrated by their inability to get services that are, in some cases, already available, found a willing listener Thursday in U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster.
Kuster, who represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, was in Keene for a roundtable discussion with veterans’ aid groups at Southwestern Community Services.
While her stop was not billed as a campaign event, Kuster is facing re-election in November. Her Republican challenger will be decided in September; those in the primary field include state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, state Rep. Jim Lawrence and former state Sen. Gary Lambert.
At Wednesday’s roundtable, local veterans groups identified some things that are improving in terms of veteran care, but also pointed to areas that need work.
The main challenges? Veterans often don’t know where to turn to for help, and, even if they did, many believe they can handle problems on their own, according to representatives from the Keene Veterans Center and Supportive Services for Veteran Families, a division of Southwestern Community Services.
“People don’t know what services they are entitled to. In some cases, there’s pride involved,” Vietnam veteran Leo Leclerc told Kuster.
Veterans groups need to do more outreach to local veterans, not only to let them know about medical services they can take advantage of, Leclerc said, but also to be directed to other social services that can give them assistance in searching for housing and jobs.
The local veterans center on Route 101 and Supportive Services for Veteran Families, also known as SSVF, are two organizations vets can take advantage of, Southwestern representatives said.
“We ask folks to serve our country and they come back ... there’s not housing, there’s not jobs,” said John Manning, CEO of Southwestern.
For the past few years, SSVF has stepped in to try to fill that void, working to connect struggling veterans with housing and jobs. The program is headed by Matthew Primrose, himself a veteran. Former Southwestern Community Services Board member John Rider recently joined Primrose as a full-time SSVF staffer.
Another place to turn is the Keene Veterans Center, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But while Keene has a center, it’s difficult for many veterans to access the services there, officials told Kuster.
The center is located a mile from downtown on Route 101, and veterans without cars can’t get there easily, they said. The city bus does not stop there.
On the other hand, if veterans need to go to the Veterans Affair Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., there are Red Cross vans that can take them there.
“It’s easier to get to White River than it is to get to the Keene clinic,” said Primrose.
Local veterans agreed the Keene Veterans Center and SSVF are valuable resources for the people who can access them.
“I can’t say enough about this program,” said Stephen Curry, a local veteran, who said the veterans center staff helped him get housing and have supported him as he’s looked for work. “I can’t say enough about these guys.”
Kuster, who sits on the House Committee of Veterans Affairs, complimented the center’s work, and told Curry that with the skills he learned in the military, she believes he and other veterans are perfect candidates for the workforce.
“These are lifelong skills: the discipline, being able to work in a group of people and being able to get things done,” she said. “There are a lot of places that want to hire veterans.”
But Kuster also admitted it is difficult to get to help to all the veterans who need it, whether that help is for medical issues, depression, housing needs or job resources.
“The system is trying to do a lot of things for a lot of people in a lot of places,” she said.
Kuster said she was especially concerned about the lack of transportation to agencies and services in the local area, as well as concerns that bureaucracy in the VA was hindering veterans’ care.
“You served us; we can serve you,” she said. “That’s my goal.”