Sen. Warren offers support of office for veterans’ issues

  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks with physician Nicole Kirchen during a visit to the VA Central Western Mass. Healthcare System in Leeds on Friday. GAZETTE STAFF

  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks with physician Nicole Kirchen during a visit to the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds on Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

For The Recorder
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren offered her office’s full support on veterans’ issues during a stop at the Northampton VA Medical Center in Leeds Friday afternoon.

The Massachusetts senator also further explained why she intends to support single-payer health care legislation to be filed in Congress this fall, saying that guaranteeing everyone in the country is covered by health insurance is a “basic human right.”

Warren talked to staff members in the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System and participated in a roundtable with VA officials where the issues of veterans suicide, addiction and homelessness were discussed.

Others attending the discussion were staff from Soldier On, a veterans homelessness nonprofit; state Reps. Peter Kocut, D-Northampton, and John Velis, D-Westfield.

Warren also seemed to connect with two nonhuman staff members at the VA, the hypoallergenic service cats Matty and Zoe.

“We could use somebody like you in Congress,” said Warren, while holding Zoe, referencing the animal’s calming abilities.

During the roundtable talk, Jim Seney told Warren the VA needs more housing stock to tackle the problem of homelessness among the veteran population.

Seney, director of the VA’s Central Western Massachusetts homeless programs, noted that VA has the largest transitional housing program in New England. He attributed this to the partnerships that the VA has with numerous organizations, including Soldier On. He also said that these relationships dovetail into permanent housing efforts.

“We don’t pretend that VA can do all of this work,” said Seney. “Without our community folks, it doesn’t work.”

Jennifer Joyce, who works on post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse issues for the VA, informed Warren that veterans are twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose than someone in the general population, explaining that this was because there are more risk factors in the veteran population.

Warren also confirmed that veterans successfully commit suicide more often than individuals in the general population with Jillian Hynek, the VA’s suicide prevention coordinator.

At the end of the roundtable, Warren offered the full support of her office and staff to help with veterans’ issues.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are out in this area,” said Warren. “You should feel free to reach out to them.”

Jack Collins, director of the VA Central Western Massachusetts system, said that Warren’s area staff members are engaged with the goings on at the VA.

“They’re wonderful,” said Collins. “They are part of the team.”

Collins also noted that one thing the VA has to deal with is the number of people who think that they are not eligible for benefits, because of such reasons as not having seen combat and not having been dismembered.

“There’s a ton of benefits that you’re eligible for,” he said.

Speaking to the media, Warren noted that she has three older brothers who are veterans.

“One of the first lessons they taught me as a little girl is we honor our promises to our vets,” Warren said. “It’s important to come and to check in.”

Warren said she was pleased with what she’d seen that day, noting the work that is being done at the center’s women’s health center, in physical rehabilitation, and in suicide prevention.

Warren also visited Soldier On and attended the Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council’s Labor Day Breakfast during her Friday visit.