Klobuchar praises advances in veteran care, but says more work is needed
The federal government has implemented an "historic increase" in health care funding for veterans in the past few years, she said, while also increasing education benefits to help returning soldiers get the training and experience they need to be successful.
But Klobuchar said more needs to be done to address lingering issues and new problems that are popping up as more and more veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan return home.
"I figured when these soldiers signed up, there wasn't a waiting line," she said. "And when they come home to the United States of America and they need a job or they need health care or they need an education, there shouldn't be a waiting line in our country."
Klobuchar was in East Grand Forks to meet with about a dozen city officials and representatives of local veterans groups on Saturday.
The event was part of her tour of several northwestern Minnesota communities that brought her to Warroad for the American Legion Veterans Day dinner and a tour of a family-owned business in Lancaster on Friday. She also toured the unmanned aerial systems program at Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls on Saturday morning.
Klobuchar said Minnesota has always been a state that "wraps our arms around our veterans" and works to provide them with the services they need when they return home.
But she said more is needed to address the problems that remain.
Klobuchar said jobs are the most important issue facing America's veterans today -- especially considering that 24 percent of Minnesota's post-Sept. 11 veterans don't have jobs. She said that's "way higher" than the state's overall unemployment rate, which was 6.9 percent in September.
The high unemployment rate also contributes to the state's issues with homelessness among recent veterans, she said. Each night, Minnesota has about 700 homeless veterans.
Klobuchar said the Senate is working to address these problems and give the nation's soldiers the support they deserve.
She introduced a bill earlier this year that she said would use existing funding to allow nonprofits to use vouchers to help homeless veterans in rural communities find shelter until they can get back on their feet.
The bill has the support of about 20 bipartisan senators, and Klobuchar said she hopes the bill will soon go to the Senate floor for a vote.
"We've had no objections so far from any veterans' groups because we're not adding more money," she said. "We're just allowing certain rural veterans to access money that's already there."
Klobuchar also praised the Senate's 94-1 vote last week to pass legislation that would provide tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed veterans. That bill is expected to be taken up by the House this week.
But Klobuchar said veterans also need a more intangible piece of support -- the respect of Americans when they finish their service.
She told the East Grand Forks audience about waiting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for a group of World War II veterans who were returning to Minnesota after spending a day in Washington, D.C., through the Honor Flight program.
As veterans got off the plane and into the terminal, she said about 1,000 people were there with balloons, signs and hugs to greet the veterans and thank them for their service. Organizers also stationed a polka band by the luggage claim area as part of the festivities.
One of the veterans asked Klobuchar to dance, but she said the band had just finished playing and she told the man there was no music for a dance. But the 85-year-old veteran had a backup plan and told the senator he had a good voice before he started signing Frankie Valli's classic song "Can't Take My Eyes off You."
"So we twirled around by the luggage carousel and I remember thinking to myself that day that this is what our veterans truly deserve every day," she said. "They deserve to have 1,000 people waiting for them with signs and balloons in an airport. And they deserve to dance with senators. But we all know that instead of just words, they always need action, and that's why we work so hard with the Legion and with the VFW to make sure we are reaching out to our veterans both young and old in a way that is going to help them."