Udall pressed to champion needs of vets: Senator visits Westcliffe, hears concerns of Custer County residents.

Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2011 12:00 am

By PABLO CARLOS MORA | pmora@chieftain.com | 0 comments

WESTCLIFFE — Issues facing military veterans — from a lack of health care options in this remote mountain hamlet to obstacles facing their caregivers — dominated the discussion Saturday as U.S. Sen. Mark Udall met with Custer County residents.

Udall spoke about the economy, the ongoing congressional debate on the budget and the military’s role in Libya before fielding questions from some 30 people at the Cliff Lanes Family Entertainment Center.

Torrey Shannon told Udall about her husband, Army Staff Sgt. John Shannon, who was shot in the head near Ar Ramadi, Iraq, on Nov. 13, 2004.

John Shannon spent three years healing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“The government needs to open up health care access to veterans,” Torrey Shannon said.  “We have to go to Alamosa” for her husband to receive care, she said.

She said her family, including three children, had moved near Westcliffe because the tranquility was good for her husband’s recovery and because of the sizable population of veterans, which she estimated is 30 percent of the entire county population.

Also, she said, many military personnel still are finding it difficult to change their status from active military under the Department of Defense to clients of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Finally, Shannon said, the VA’s process for certifying a caregiver for a wounded veteran is very difficult to navigate.

Udall said his staff already was hard at work on the issues she raised.

“We will work with individual veterans to cut red tape,” the senator said. “They should be receiving the benefits they earned.”

Also, Udall said he is working “to streamline the handoff from DOD to the VA.”

He said the use of telemedicine, in which medical professionals consult with patients via teleconferencing, is rapidly expanding.

Shannon said the closest VA clinic where telemedicine is available to veterans is in Pueblo.

John Vaclav, commander of American Legion Post 170 in Westcliffe, said he wanted to know why the local health clinic was not certified to treat military personnel.

Udall was asked the same question later at the High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival, which runs through today.

Jerry Nimnicht, who works at the Custer County Medical Clinic, said Udall told him “the VA had looked into it and not enough veterans were here to make it worthwhile.”

“We have more work to do to ensure our veterans and military personnel receive the best care possible,” Udall said.

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