Wyden, Hooley call for better veteran’s benefits at VA picnic

Although they came from far and wide, few vets checked out the information tables set up for them, but everyone seemed to be having a good time …

Mustering for the Colors Ceremony are representatives from Northwest Indian Veterans (NWIV) members Alvey Seyouma, NWIV V.A. Chair; Hopei Tribe from N. Arizona; Louis Pacheco, a Piute who served with the 7th division in Korea; Arnie Holt, president of NWVA, who served with the 101st airborne and member Kavel Kaval Federated tribes; Chuck Dougherty, a Vietnam veteran in the 1st Air Cavalry Division; Darwin Hartman, Cherokee; Vern Wilson, U.S. Army, who served at Ft. Lewis, Washington; and Bruce Brown, U.S. Army Chemical Corps in Maryland during Korean conflict.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Military veterans were treated to a day of picnic lunches, music, and politicians’ promises at Oaks Amusement Park a couple of weeks ago.

“Today we’re having a ‘welcome home’ celebration for our Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans,” said Mike McAleer, Public Affairs Officer for Portland Veteran’s Administration (V.A.) Medical Center.

“We’ve invited them to come and learn about benefits and services available – we have over 35 tables set up where they can gather information about jobs, education, and V.A. benefits,” McAleer went on. “We’re happy to do anything we can to help these folks transition back home after their service to the government.”

One of the many volunteers giving out information bags is Kathy Hunt, who works at the V.A. in the Operative Care Department.

Cody Szabo with SuperDog – they catered the event – here, serving up hotdogs.

Giving a big ‘thank you’
The Bridgetown Big Band played World War II vintage melodies as veterans and their family members filtered into the area, marked off with a two-story high arch made of red, white, and blue helium balloons.

In addition to providing information, the event was planned to allow the VA to “Give our veterans a big thank you, and let them know we’re here for them and their needs – now that they’ve taken care of our needs,” said McAleer, a Vietnam-era veteran. “I also was in Iraq twice with the Army Corps of Engineers as a public affairs officer for the reconstruction we did over there.”

US Senator Ron Wyden takes a moment to talk with VA officials before he goes on stage.

Vets need more help, Wyden says
Then the band took a break, and V.A. officials and political dignitaries took the stage.

US Senator Ron Wyden started off by quipping, “For senators, a keynote speech usually lasts for an hour or so.” Wyden then turned to his hosts and said, “I’m afraid they think I’m serious!”

He continued, “In our country, we believe that those who honor us by wearing our uniform, and put themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedoms, should have good-quality health care when they come home. I think we have seen this at the Portland V.A., with the resources they have. But too often, the priorities are bent out of whack. There haven’t been the dollars for the doctors, the programs, and shortening the waiting lines, to make sure people get their services in a timely way.”

Wyden calls for more, and better, benefits for U.S. Armed Forces veterans.

Calls for ‘equal benefits”
Wyden complained that the “G.I. Bill” hasn’t kept pace with the times, especially in Oregon. “We don’t have the big military bases like they have back east. And so we don’t have the same number of folks in the active military. What we have is a tremendous number of courageous Oregonians who have gone into the National Guard and Reserve – and we now have one of the highest percentages in the country of people serving in the Guard and Reserve. And they don’t get the same benefits that you get under the G.I. Bill.

“If you’re a soldier, dodging the same bullets, in the same place, for the same length of time – you’re entitled to equal benefits. We want to get those for our soldiers who are serving our country.”

U.S. House Representative, fifth District, Darlene Hooley, on the Oaks Park stage to thank veterans’ family members for their sacrifices.

Hooley echoes sentiments
US House Representative, fifth District, Darlene Hooley followed, thanking the veterans present for their service to our country, saying, “You do us proud. You’re the ones who make sure that we have a safe country in which to live and keep our freedoms.”

Corbett Craig, First 327 101st Airbore from Ft. Campbell; “we were over in Iraq twice, each time for one year,” he said, as his face was painted by volunteer Paula Holmes.

After saying she agreed with Wyden’s remarks, Hooley added, “If you are a veteran’s family member, or a friend who has supported veterans, I thank you for the sacrifices you and your family have made.”

With that, the veterans and their family members were provided with hot dog lunches, with the opportunity to visit the information booths, and were given wrist bands allowing them to ride the thrill rides at Oaks Park for free.

We saw a few veterans picking up information provided by the 35 organizations that set up tables at the event.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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