LARNED — U.S. Senator Jerry Moran stopped in Larned Wednesday, his last on his town hall tour before heading home to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with his family. Before taking questions from constituents, he provided updates on his ongoing work as a member of the Veterans Affairs committee in providing medical services to veterans.
In May, the Senate passed the Choice Act, penned by Moran, which in a nutshell allows veterans to receive medical care locally at the medicare price if they live more than 40 miles from an approved Veterans Administration hospital or clinic, or if it will take more than 30 days for them to be seen. The House also approved the bill, but there have been complications in implementation of the act over the past six months. This, he said, is due to officials at the Veterans Administration interpreting the law in ways the most damaging to veterans. For example, early on the VA interpreted the 40 mile rule “as the crow flies” rather than by how a veteran would actually have to travel to the facility. Since then, the “crow flies” interpretation has been challenged and the courts have ruled against the VA. However that isn’t the end to obstacles, Moran reports.
Most recently it has been brought to his attention that veterans are being told they have to go to a VA hospital in Wichita, Topeka or Kansas City if they live within the 40 mile radius of a VA clinic, even if that clinic does not provide the services sought. For example, one Plainville veteran, living 23 miles from Hays, was told he had to travel to a VA hospital to receive a colonoscopy, even though the VA clinic in Hays does not provide colonoscopies.
He asked those in attendance to spread the word that he would like to hear of any other veterans having difficulties due to VA interpretations of the act. Currently, he is working on ensuring mental health services can be provided close to home also.
Moran also asked those in attendance how they wish him to represent them concerning the Syrian refugee crisis in light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, noting Kansas is not in favor of accepting those fleeing the fighting in that country without a clear plan for vetting and assimilation.
“I’m asking you to make me feel more comfortable about criticisms from the Bishops,” he said.
Overwhelmingly, those in attendance indicated they were in favor of developing a sound vetting process before refugees were allowed to enter the country.
One man, self-described as a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, offered the rhetorical question, “We should consider first why these people are not seeking asylum in neighboring countries, and also why aren’t the neighboring countries accepting them?”
Moran responded that he had no answers, but the point was well taken. He also clarified his and other conservatives’ hesitation on taking in refugees has more to do with a distrust of the Executive arm of Government.
“No one is talking about under what terms they are entering the country,” he said. “Will we take them in and care for them until it is safe to go back to their homes? It is doubtful that Syria will be fine to return home to anytime soon.”
Immigration, cousin to the refugee question, may be at the heart of the dilemma. Already, the current system of immigration is ineffective, he said. And Congress doesn’t believe in President Barrack Obama because he makes no effort to build relationships with the members, Moran said. Conservatives are made to defend their positions on immigration, he said, adding that he is against illegal immigration, not legal immigration.
“We need to figure out, as a nation, how many people we can assimilate, and determine what skills they bring with them and how it can be done in a timely manner,” he said. Attributing a statement from a Jetmore constituent, he said, “We are happy to take in people who want to work hard when they get here, not those who simply want to take advantage of our services.”
Crossing the aisle, budget, and other questions
Other concerns voiced by attendees at the town hall included how to get Republicans and Democrats talking again, global warming, the budget, Lake Wilson dam, and rural economics. Again, Moran spoke of the difficulties being faced by members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, in getting things done. Building relationships through caucuses was one of his solutions.
Energy use, he said, pitted the rich against the poor. Global warming solutions, he said, need to come from sound science and common sense. Fossil fuels tend to be cheaper to the end user, after all, than emerging renewable energy sources.
“People who claim to be against cheap fuel are not in touch with reality of the issues the poor face,” he said. “regardless of where their energy comes from, the wealthy will be just fine.”
Pressed by Blaine Parker of the Russell County Homeowners association and Jere Buehler of the Wilson Lake Area Association about ongoing concerns over water levels at Wilson Reservoir in North Central Kansas, Moran promised to follow up with Col. Andrew Sexton of the Army Corps of Engineers, and to send a staff member to meet with both groups at their next board meetings.
Finally, Felix Revello, a constituent, asked if Moran had put pressure on the USDA concerning how it defines “farmer.” The question was in reference to ongoing rural decline resulting from consolidation of farm ground under large corporations, and unfair competition with small family farms. Moran responded he will visit with staff members upon his return to his office.
At that, one more attendee commented, praising the Senator for the work he has done and continues to do, prompting thanks from Moran.
“It’s very kind of you to say that, and to say it out loud.”