TSONGAS TAKES PULSE OF 5TH DISTRICT VETS’ CONCERNS

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DRACUT — Congresswoman Niki Tsongas hosted the first meeting of the 5th Congressional District Veterans Advisory Committee at the American Legion on Feb. 11.

The meeting brought together area veterans agents, elected officials, other veterans care representatives and local veterans and their families to discuss the needs of the veterans, such as housing, health care, education, employment and family support.

“We brought together the various members of the community because they are the ones that are experiencing these things firsthand,” Tsongas said. “Whether they are the ones providing the information or the ones trying to get the information, it’s important for us to know what the issues are in our local community.”

Tsongas explained to the group the importance of the advisory committee.

“One of the first things I had the opportunity to vote on after I was elected was the huge increase in veteran funds,” Tsongas said. “But just because the money is there doesn’t mean we’re getting it right.”

Faye Morrison of Ayer, one of more than 40 members of the community that attended the meeting, is thrilled to be a part of the advisory committee. “They are smart enough to get us all together,” Morrison said. “They want to take our individual efforts and make them more universal.”

Morrison’s daughter, Sgt. Crystal M. Felix of the Reserves, has served two years in Baghdad. Faye Morrison feels her input is needed to help the women serving in the military. “Women were always nurses that saw the tragedy,” Morrison said. “But my daughter, she’s right there in the green zone, she’s a soldier. Her needs and those in this young generation will be different than the women that served years ago.

“When they first come home, things may be great, but the (post traumatic stress disorder) can show up years from now. So for me long-term care is an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Tsongas said the needs of veterans are different based on war and age. “What a veteran of the Korean War needs is definitely different from what a 19- or 20-year-old needs.”

Luther McIlwain, veteran of the legendary African-American Tuskegee Airman of World War II, agreed older veterans need different benefits from the younger veterans, and is concerned with the trust young adults are given.

“We can trust an 18-year-old to man a gun,” the Methuen resident said. “But it’s in the mindset of the administrators to not trust them enough to give them their health card.”

A common theme during the brainstorming session was all the red tape veterans need to go through when they first file for their benefits.

The information was collected from the groups and will be used for future meetings of the advisory committee.

Tsongas plans to meet with the committee on a quarterly basis with the hopes of finding specific ideas to bring to legislation.