COLUMBIA FALLS – With a congressional recess freeing up travel time, Rep. Steve Daines made veterans a top priority by touring service providers across western Montana, including three in the Flathead Valley.
On Feb. 20, the Republican congressman visited the Northwest Montana Veterans Pantry in Evergreen, the Kalispell VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic and the Montana Veterans’ Home in Columbia Falls. Daines toured the VA Medical Center in Fort Harrison a day earlier.
At the Montana Veterans’ Home, Daines met with director Joren Underdahl and director of social services and admissions coordinator Helen Lyman. He also visited with the home’s residents, who are veterans representing multiple generations but predominantly the World War II era.
Daines asked if there is anything he can do to help the state’s veterans, acknowledging the difficulties they sometimes have with government benefits. He told the story of an 87-year-old Montana man who had a stroke and was in the hospital when his benefits suddenly ran out. The man called one of Daines’ staff members, who was able to keep him from being discharged from the hospital.
“That’s what we’re trying to look for too – how we can be kind of the first line of defense to help people in need navigate the process of the system,” he said.
Underdahl said his facility, in addition to state cigarette tax revenues and private payments, receives federal dollars from Medicare, Medicaid and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Maintaining that funding is crucial to the home’s welfare.
“Those are all revenues we rely on,” Underdahl said.
Daines said he was aware that Montana has one of the highest, if not the highest, per-capita concentrations of veterans in the nation, and understands the importance of employing working-age veterans. With that in mind, he said two of his eight Montana staff members are veterans.
“You always hear how you should hire vets,” he said. “We decided to put our money where our mouth is.”
The congressman said he meets regularly with Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester to discuss Montana issues, including those that affect veterans.
“We need to come together as Montanans to best represent our state,” Daines said.
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