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Guest Opinion: Veterans appreciate Nolan, Walz

Congressmen are used to tough crowds, and Minnesota's Rick Nolan and Tim Walz got them in spades during two veterans roundtables recently held in Duluth and Brainerd. Along with the two congressmen, various members of the veteran community - coun...

Congressmen are used to tough crowds, and Minnesota's Rick Nolan and Tim Walz got them in spades during two veterans roundtables recently held in Duluth and Brainerd. Along with the two congressmen, various members of the veteran community - county veteran service officers, administrators and advocates - were on hand to testify. At each event were roughly 30 veterans, ready to speak out. And they did.

For the most part, it wasn't pretty. Much of the ire was directed at the new Choice card, which was meant to alleviate wait times and availability for rural veterans. According to some veterans, it does neither. One veteran in Duluth called it a debacle, while others complained about the runaround and confusion they've experienced. A CVSO, backed up by a few grumbles of assent from the audience, ranted about the "duplicity" of the VA, wasted tax dollars and lack of veteran clinics in Nolan's 8th Congressional District.

Not all was doom and gloom. Veterans generally praised the quality of care at VA clinics and hospitals, and options were floated to include more non-traditional services that perhaps could cut down on the wait time, which was a huge sticking point at both events.

Overall, the two roundtables were everything Nolan and Walz wanted, and expected. As Nolan said in Duluth, "We want to find out what's working, and what isn't." This wasn't first time they've dealt with contentious veterans, and won't be the last. Nolan and Walz knew what they were getting into, and, quite frankly, they are well-suited to deal with it.

Despite both roundtables being in Nolan's district, the five-term Democrat deferred a lot to Walz, the 1st District Representative who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. As the highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress, Walz was comfortable going head to head with the more assertive veterans, defending his votes and the many veterans who serve in the VA instead of other, higher-paying jobs. Like any good, hard-charging sergeant major, he was fair but firm.

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Nolan, no veteran himself, serves a district where there's a framed photo of a serving military member on almost every fireplace mantel. And he deals with equally combative steel workers with his own rural scrappiness that's needed in Minnesota's largest Congressional district. A scrappiness and regional empathy noticeably absent from his previous vacuous opponents, Chip Cravaack and Stewart Mills. Like Walz, he was able to take it in and dish it out. It helped he knew many of the veterans present by name. One could see all of them sitting around a table at the Camp Ripley NCO Club, drinking Leinie's and razzing each other.

For Northland veterans, that makes a difference. One can certainly say Nolan's record on supporting veterans is exemplary. Since returning to Congress, he has voted on and sponsored veteran legislation that improves access to higher education and housing, provides better employment and business opportunities, and ensures veterans' and survivors' benefits remain strong. More recently, he, along with Walz, is throwing his weight behind the extension of the Agent Orange Act, first enacted in 1991. He is also addressing the unique issues of other conflicts, like Iraq and Afghanistan, the Gulf War, Korea and World War II. If not sufficiently busy with legislation, Nolan is making sure individual veterans receive the services, benefits, awards and recognition they deserve.

It's that personal touch that veterans appreciate. And they're not stupid - they know all the Nolans and all the Walzs in Congress won't be able to get everything they want. But if a Congressman is willing to sit down for a morning, listen to some grumbling, take some heat, and show sincere interest and respect, and remember one's name, that's worth something. And for Northland veterans that Congressman is Rick Nolan.

Dave Boe is a writer, editor and public relations specialist who served 20 years in the United States Army, Army Reserve and Air National Guard. He lives in Duluth.

Related Topics: VETERANS
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