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Local veterans gather to voice concerns


March 19, 2020

Miriah Kardelis

VETERAN DISCUSSION - Local veteran Mike Swanson (left) asks Montana congressional candidate Joe Dooling (standing right) a question at a roundtable discussion last Thursday at the Plains VFW.

Sanders County veterans met with officials last Thursday to discuss issues including a local veteran service office, applying for benefits and the availability of jobs for veterans.

The roundtable discussion was held at the VFW in Plains. Joe Dooling, a Republican running for the U.S. House of Representatives this year, was there to hear about these issues. Alongside Dooling was Sam Redfern, founder and president of United States of Hope in Missoula. Dave Williams, president and founder of Joint Operation Mariposa, sat with Redfern to aid in the conversation. In the audience, alongside veterans from all over Sanders County was Representative Denley Loge, House District 14, and Edward Foste, Vice President of Joint Operation Mariposa.

Dooling pointed out one of the reasons he thinks D.C. isn't working is because everyone is always trying to move up the ladder all the time. He has stated he has no desire to be governor or to run for senate, and lists one of his priorities, when running for congress, is support for veterans. "We get one voice. If we want to get things done in Montana, you need to have a voice in congress. I have a lot of respect for the service you guys did," Dooling expressed, "this is for you guys to drill me with questions." Redfern, who introduced Dooling, reiterated to the attendees, "this is not a partisan event, we are here to hear vets' concerns. This is an open forum, so ask away."

Sanders County does not have a veteran service office, which was one of the main talking points of the evening's event. "We want to help get a county service office up, so you guys can get your benefits," Redfern stated. The American Community Survey (ACS), which is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, states that the veterans in Sanders County make up around 16.3 percent of the population. With such high numbers of veterans in the community, addressing the problems and confusion within the system as well as a lack of services and access in this area, is long overdue, Redfern said.

Mike Swanson, a local veteran, attended the roundtable to voice his concerns about issues when it comes to applying for disability, as well as the criteria it takes to receive those benefits based on the percentage of disability classified by the Veterans Affairs. "Will there be a definitive bill, or a resolution that will allow veterans who are at a certain percentage from the VA, that will automatically qualify vets to receive their social security disability?" Dooling was shocked to hear this wasn't something for which vets aren't qualified. "We need to fix that, and I hope to work with you to fix it. Tell me where I got to go, and we'll fix it," Dooling responded.

Another problem brought up at the meeting had to do with the lack of jobs available to disabled veterans. Veterans in attendance have found that an employer might not be willing to hire them because of their disabilities. "There needs to be a way to protect the employer, yet allow the vets to work without repercussions," Dooling expressed.

Several people were in agreement that the county needs more of an economy and more opportunity. "A veteran service office in this county would have the ability to bring in financing and a place to coordinate for things like that. This is why this discussion is so important," Williams said. The confusion that comes with the way billing works in Montana is a high concern. Whether a veteran is injured in training versus combat determines whether or not the disability compensation is taxed or not. "You guys have given me an ear full, there's got to be some ideas here. The beauty about becoming a congressman is that I will have a great relationship with the legislature. There's got to be a way to get something together, we just got to do it," Dooling said.


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