At an installation breakfast of officers of the Jewish War Veterans last month, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., told members that she sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee “and I requested that committee because in District 1, there are a number of veterans … and I wanted to be in a position where I could fight for those who deserved the best services and the best attention because of all the sacrifices they made for us over the years … and let me tell you that I will always be there as your advocate.”
She added that there are veterans all over the state, and her work will help all veterans in all state districts.
Titus said she was involved in many things when it came to veterans issues, but her focus revolves around two major areas — the backlog of VA claims, and the backlog of veterans’ appeals. Titus said in Nevada, claims must be processed through the VA office in Reno, which serves the Silver State and five counties in Northern California. She said that unfortunately the Reno office is the “fifth worst VA office in the country” when it comes to claims processing. It takes approximately 500 days to process an original claim, she said, and that is “unacceptable.”
On the positive side, she added that recently the office made some upgrades and hired additional personnel. The order of work is set for the Reno VA service officers to initially work on claims two or more years old, then move to claims that are one year old. The changes will hopefully help trim the backlogs, she said. The downside in that scenario is that as the original claims are processed, the volume of appeals will grow, and that problem must also be handled.
Former Rep. Shelley Berkley also addressed the members. She is a second-generation American, whose grandparents came to the U.S. with no money and no skills, she said. The Jewish families of her mother and father, from different parts of Europe, were victims of Nazis, she added. When World War II broke out, her dad was 17 years old, living in the U.S., and “there was never any question that he would enlist, just like so many people sitting in this room.” She said her dad recently celebrated his 88th birthday.
Like so many others in America, there were many Jewish boys who joined the service “to fight for their country, so that their children and their children’s children would have a place to live,” Berkley said.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., told the group that some years ago when he was deployed in Iraq — “I still wear the uniform” in the Army National Guard — there came a time when he was finally able to take a moment to phone his wife in Nevada. He said he could tell that “there was something wrong” by the tenor of her voice and he asked her what was bothering her. She told him that several days earlier her telephone rang at 3 a.m., “and she was terrified. She was fearful to pick up that phone. Ultimately, she picked it up. It was a wrong number. She had a few choice words for the person on the other end of the line.
“It just underscores what our folks, our family members at home, go through while those of us in uniform are deployed in harm’s way.”
One reason he ran for Congress, he said, is that he felt it was important to have those who have been in uniform represent those who are currently in uniform, or those who have been in the military. Few members of Congress today have served in the military, he said. “Not that you have to wear the uniform or stand in harm’s way to understand the issues and take care of our veterans and our servicemen. But I think it gives you a little bit of a different perspective having been there. Having served. Having gone through it.
“If we take care of our national security issues, hopefully our service members will have an easier time,” Heck said.
Jewish War Veterans member Paul Sobel was sworn in as the newly elected department commander, and other members also took their respective oaths of office. Outgoing Commander Ed Kranson presented Berkley with a plaque honoring her for her “continuous support of all veterans projects as the representative from the First Congressional District from 1999 to 2013.”
She emphasized that it was the Jewish War Veterans that brought her up to speed on veterans issues when she was first elected in 1998.
Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is the managing editor of Nevada’s Veterans Reporter newspaper and the host of the “Veterans Reporter Radio Show” on KLAV (1230 AM) from 8-9 p.m. Thursdays and the “Veterans Reporter News” at 2:30 a.m. Fridays on VEGAStv KTUD-Cable 14.