Hickenlooper meets with vets, hears concerns, pledges help

Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Hickenlooper today met with veterans at the Mile High American GI Forum in Northwest Denver. He and Lt. Governor nominee Joe Garcia engaged in spirited but friendly discussion with a couple of dozen veterans.

Jason Crow, who introduced Hickenlooper, said “America has a sacred promise to take care of its veterans.” He and other veterans at the meeting said it is a promise that is too often ignored. Further, they said that many veterans don’t know about the services that are available to them through state or federal governments.

A lot of times, they said, a young veteran comes home from Iraq or Afghanistan and they don’t get involved in groups like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars or the GI Forum. “They think those groups are for the grandpas and that there is really nothing for them.”

Complicating the problem, according to one veteran there, is the fact that a lot of the people who join the military do so because they don’t have a lot of other good choices. When they get out, they are no more prepared for college or an always changing job market than they were when they enlisted.

“We need someone to be a champion for veterans, especially young returning veterans, so they know what services are available,” said Jim Dale.

Garcia, president of Colorado State University, Pueblo and former president of a community college adjacent to Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs, said there are programs to help veterans prepare for college. A lot of times, he said they need remedial work in basic subjects like reading, writing and math before they can be expected to do well in college.

Hickenlooper and Garcia spent far more time listening than talking. They did pass out copies of a five-point plan to address some of the issues facing veterans in Colorado.

He said the state’s population of veterans over 75 will increase by a third in the next 15 years, which will require the availability of almost 200 additional beds in veterans’ nursing homes. He pledged his administration would work to create additional beds as needed.

His written statement noted that many veterans live in rural areas that are under-served by VA health facilities. He said he would work to provide funding from the Veterans Trust Fund or other sources to provide transportation to medical facilities for those veterans who need it.

One veteran noted that job training that is currently provided to veterans is often based on old models that don’t work. “They train people for jobs that don’t exist,” he said. Hickenlooper pledged to work with groups such as Veterans Green Jobs to help veterans get training and placement.

Hickenlooper and Garcia said they would work to ensure adequate services for National Guard and Army Reserve personnel, who they said often do not have access to all the services available to active duty veterans. Hickenlooper’s statement said he would work with the State Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Labor to ensure that returning Guard and Reserve personnel get their jobs back and also receive adequate training to perform their disaster response mission here in Colorado.

Hickenlooper also offered his administration’s full support for the development of the Fitzsimmons campus, including a “world-class VA health care facility that will be conducting cutting edge research on PTSD and traumatic brain injury.”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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