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Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello made his way through Bedford County last weekend visiting with area residents during a town hall meeting in Moneta Friday and with his newly formed Veterans Advisory Board on Saturday.
“The best way to serve our veterans is to be listening to them,” Perriello said during a press conference Saturday at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford. He stressed that the advisory board wasn’t about partisanship or politics. He said the goal is to have it stand as a voice for veterans in Washington.
The board, which met at the Bedford Welcome Center Saturday morning, is made up of about two dozen veterans and district residents. Perriello said it was a victory when President Barack Obama withdrew a proposal to charge private insurance for service-related injuries and illnesses for veterans. “We’ve won that victory,” Perriello said. “It was a mistake; it was a bad proposal.”
He added that it’s important to address the issue of the suicide rates of this nation’s veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We can’t keep it in the closet any longer,” he said of the issue.
He said the Fifth Congressional District has a storied history of military service. “It’s a patriotic area,” he said.
The advisory board will meet quarterly and represents veterans from many different wars, representing a variety of experiences. He said it’s important, as well, to deal with the unemployment issues facing returning veterans.
“You had a cross section of veterans from a variety of conflicts,” noted Greg Eanes, one of those who participated in Saturday’s advisory board meeting. “The problems facing veterans are cross-generational.”
The goal, veterans said, is to help deal with issues facing veterans not only in this district, but nationwide.
“Until you’ve been in combat, you just don’t understand,” added Frank Poynter of Appomattox County, about veterans’ issues.
The housing crisis was on the minds of several who attended Friday night’s town hall meeting in Moneta. “This has been a raw deal for responsible people,” Perriello said of the issue. He added, however, that taking steps to help those facing foreclosure ultimately helps everyone, noting foreclosures drive down property values.
He defended the stimulus package, stating that it has helped to keep schools open and police officers on the street. “It was important to do something,” he said.
He said the stimulus plan will take 18 to 24 months to implement. “We were on the cusp of a great depression,” he said of the need for the stimulus plan.
Perriello said he’s still studying President Obama’s proposed budget. He would like to see a balanced budget. “We will never balance the budget until we get healthcare under control,” he added.
He said the country must embrace new energy initiatives or “we’ll spend the next 30 years regretting it.”
Of his first two months in office, Perriello said the partisanship has been worse than he expected. On the other hand, Perriello said he’s found local people “are just about getting things done.”
As for the prospect of having to face off against former Fifth District Congressman Virgil Goode in the next election (Goode has filed the appropriate paperwork, but has not declared himself a candidate yet), Perriello said he’s not thinking in those terms. “I’m more concerned with protecting the people’s jobs in the Fifth District than protecting my own,” he said.