Craig U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar gave credit Thursday to the Moffat County veterans for their work on bringing health care to veterans in Craig and the surronding area.
"One year ago we were having a conversation on how to get it done," Salazar said to a crowd of mostly veterans. "Because of your perseverance, we are on the verge of opening a (Community Based Outpatient Clinic) in Northwest Colorado."
Salazar thanked the local supporters for their efforts in getting a tele-health clinic for Craig that will be linked to medical specialists in Grand Junction, Denver and Salt Lake City. The clinic could save many veterans a long drive to those cities for medical care.
Speaking at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4265 on Thursday morning,
Salazar also addressed protecting America with a strong national defense and homeland security and energy issues in the country and Colorado.
"We need to move forward with developing clean energy in the 21st century," he said. "In March, 67 percent of the oil consumption in America came from foreign countries. Some of those countries have a different vision, or are unfriendly to the United States."
Forming a policy to end the nation's dependence on foreign oil includes developing the natural gas and oil resources in Colorado in a balanced way, Salazar said. He encouraged conservation and expanding renewable resources such as solar and wind-driven energy.
The main focus of the senator's visit and the questions posed by veterans afterward remained on health care. Salazar called the Colorado system "broken."
"There is a huge discrepancy in health care in the big cities and in rural Colorado," he said. "We have high co-payments and deductibles and problems with Medicaid."
Legislation introduced by Salazar and supported by 24 senators was recently signed into law and will create an Office of Rural Veteran's Affairs to look into problems faced by smaller town veterans.
Goals of the office should include increasing reimbursement payments for veterans driving to medical appointments, creating a grant program that will generate money for veterans programs and creating demonstration projects for veterans to access critical care in rural America, Salazar said.
"In the last five years the country has not funded health care the way it should be funded," he said. "In 2007, Congress passed legislation for a fully-funded veterans' budget. It is the largest increase seen in some time."
Steve Stephenson is the Veteran's Employment Officer at the Colorado Workforce Center and he attended the senator's presentation mostly to hear what the veterans had to say.
"When they come home from the military, I help them find jobs," Stephenson, a Marine Corps veteran, said. "I wanted to hear about the veterans' problems. I've got some vets older than me, and that's pretty old."
Johnny Garcia, U.S. Army veteran from a Craig family of four Vietnam veterans, asked the senator to look into poor record keeping by the U.S. military.
Salazar encouraged veterans with record problems to contact his office for assistance.
"Records are a huge and historic problem," Salazar said. "I have pushed for creating seamless transitions from active duty to the Veterans Administration."
Many veterans in attendance agreed health care they received in Grand Junction was very good, once they were in the program.
Salazar said additional attention must be given to the mental health of veterans returning from Iraq, with nearly 18 percent of returning Fort Carson troops suffering traumatic brain injuries. post traumatic stress disorder could raise that number significantly if it was added to the statistics, he said.
"The country faces challenges in foreign policy in Iraq, Africa and other countries," Salazar said. "I'm optimistic. I think America's best days are still ahead."