I can’t think of any local elected official who advocates against American military veterans. Not all of them are especially vocal toward veterans, but they certainly don’t speak out against issues that could help those who serve.
Then there are select representatives who certainly are front and center when it comes to supporting veterans legislation and issues. One such individual is Nevada’s Third District Rep. Susie Lee. A Democrat, she has been known to join with others across the aisle on veterans’ issues. Among other responsibilities, she is the chairwoman of the subcommittee on technology modernization under the committee on veterans affairs.
Recently, she was one of several who introduced a bipartisan bill to increase health access for babies born to children of veterans. And she joined with others to introduce a bipartisan bill encouraging hiring of veterans. In a recent interview, she explained that her father served in the Army in the Korean War, and other family members have served more recently in the Middle East. One of eight children, she recalls that when she was a small child her dad invited two wheelchair-bound Vietnam War veterans who were visiting her Ohio town to stay with the family.
“Imagine having a house full of eight kids and finding two beds for those veterans. So it shows you what his commitment was.”
On a visit to the VA benefits administration office in Reno, she said she wanted to examine the claims process, especially as it pertains to veterans in Southern Nevada. She said she found it “somewhat frustrating” that while the majority of veterans reside in the south, the state’s main VA office is in the north.
“I’m going to continue to make sure that we are doing whatever we can to get our veterans who live here in Southern Nevada the best access to care they can get.”
Within the veterans community it has been a point of contention for many years that the state’s VA office is geographically distant from many it serves. “It was pretty eye-opening to understand that the office sits up there while 60 percent of the veterans are down here,” she said, indicating she would look into the possibility of making any changes.
Lee said she is proud that Nevada is the first state to have a Legislature where the majority of members are women, and she is part of the largest incoming class of women in Congress. She said having women at the table is important to her.
“I’m glad to be a part of this historic class,” she said.
Having more women in politics is just one of her goals. I asked about her feelings concerning veterans running for office and if she supports that. “Absolutely. First of all, in my incoming class there is a significant number of veterans who ran and won. And again I think that it comes down to representation. It’s incredibly important for veterans to step up and run for office. They certainly have a unique voice and an understanding, not just what they went through as active duty, but also the challenges that veterans face in making sure that they have a seat at the table.”
On a related issue, many in Washington are still working to store nuclear waste in Nevada, although the state has been officially been against that for years. Lee is joining the fight against using Nevada as a dumping ground.
“It’s rearing its head again. Whenever we think it’s dead, it comes back. When I was first elected I sat down with Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi before she became speaker and said, ‘Listen. I will give you my vote, but I need an assurance that if a bill on Yucca Mountain comes to the House (of Representatives), you’re not going to bring it to the floor. She gave me that assurance.”
Lee explained storage of nuclear waste is a state issue, and if the state doesn’t want it, Washington should listen. “The bottom line is our health, our safety and our economy depend on us not having Yucca Mountain developed.”
The recent Historic Preservation Day in Boulder City was a large success, with many residents and others attending various public functions. I was especially impressed with the city’s vintage airplane hanger and the many suggestions about what to do with the facility.
As a veteran and a student of Nevada history, I’m suggesting that the building be turned into the Nevada Museum of Military History. It would showcase the rich involvement of the Silver State in military actions dating from the Civil War through today. I’ll be contacting city and state legislators asking them to jump on board this idea and come up with plans for financing and development. And, I’ll be sure to include Rep. Lee.
Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.