OHIO VALLEY — More than 100 veterans converged Monday morning for a town hall meeting in Mason to hear congressional updates from both West Virginia and Ohio congressmen.
U.S. Congressman Evan Jenkins, representing the 3rd Congressional District in West Virginia, which includes Mason County, and Congressman Bill Johnson, representing the 6th Congressional District in Ohio, which includes Meigs and Gallia counties, spoke to the veterans at the Stewart-Johnson V.F.W. Post. Also speaking was J. Brian Nimmo, director of the Huntington Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Veterans from as far away as southern West Virginia joined tri-county vets to get updates on everything from access to care, to homelessness, addiction, and upcoming veteran events. Also during the meeting, a local World War II veteran was presented an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol in his honor.
Meigs Countian Jack Lewis, a member of the Drew-Webster American Legion Post 39, was presented the flag jointly by the congressmen. A U.S. Navy veteran, Lewis was in the same harbor as the U.S.S. Missouri on the day of the Japanese surrender in WWII. He was aboard the U.S.S. Teton as a radioman petty officer, second class.
Congressman Jenkins told those attending about the funds being placed into rural health care. He spoke on funding veterans court and the ever-growing veterans homeless population, saying it is time for the government to “step up to the plate.”
Jenkins said the Veterans Administration medical system is designed to be the best, and vowed to help hold it to that standard.
Congressman Johnson said there are “real pockets of excellence within the V.A.” Stating the Veterans Administration is the largest agency in the federal government, employing 350,000 people, Johnson said a drastic overhaul is needed to bring it into a model of excellence.
“We’re making progress, but we’re not there yet,” the Ohio congressman said. “We are continuing to work on the problems.”
Nimmo told those attending that 30,000 veterans are served at his medical center in Huntington and its four clinics, which includes one in Gallipolis.
He cited access to care, stating most appointments are made within 30 days of referral, with the exception of some specialty services such as cardiology. Nimmo also spoke of the residential treatment program for addiction and the recent survey conducted on the medical center by the Joint Commission.
The director listed a number of upcoming events for veterans, including a prisoner of war event on Sept. 16, a stand-down for the homeless vets on Sept. 21 in Huntington and Sept. 30 in Logan County, and a big Veterans Day event in Huntington on the day before the holiday.
Local veterans participating in the town hall meeting were Ray Varian, senior vice commander, Stewart-Johnson V.F.W. Post 9926; Bob Caruthers, post quartermaster plus, National V.F.W. Council member for West Virginia, and past state commander for West Virginia; and Ralph Ross, member of American Legion Post 140.
The meeting, which included a pancake breakfast, was co-hosted by the Stewart-Johnson V.F.W. Post 9926 of Mason and Smith-Capehart American Legion Post 140 of New Haven.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer with Ohio Valley Publishing who lives in Mason County.