Manchin covers vets’ concerns

WILLIAMSTOWN – U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin fielded questions from area veterans and discussed issues Wednesday morning at the Army National Guard Armory near the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 50 people, Manchin told veterans he and everyone he knows in Washington, D.C., appreciate and respect their service.

However, he said he disagrees with some of the recent policy decisions that have negatively impacted veterans, including the recent budget agreement that cut pension cost-of-living adjustments by 1 percent.

Manchin said cuts are obviously needed with the national debt at nearly $17 trillion, but those who served their country shouldn’t bear the brunt.

“The military will take a haircut just like anybody else in this country,” he said. “If you’re going to do something, then do something where we’ll all take a cut.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have expressed an interest in finding alternative cuts, and Manchin said he believes it will happen.

The former governor spoke about the need for Congress to put aside partisan fighting to restore America’s trust in the institution. Greg Smith, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8127 of Vienna, said actions like cutting pensions and health care options have eroded that trust among people who swore an oath to serve their country and expected to receive certain things in return.

“The issue is not so much the cuts; it’s that the veterans are receiving the cuts after they made that agreement,” Smith said.

Jim Viers, commander of American Legion Post 15 in Parkersburg, asked Manchin to tell other lawmakers veterans’ pensions can’t be compared to standard business retirement plans because of the sacrifices members of the military have made.

“When you compare the private sector retirements to the military retirements, they’re not the same,” he said.

Other veterans told Manchin about problems or concerns they were having with the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg and other issues with their health care. Manchin directed them to members of his staff and National Guard officials who could help them with their specific requests after the meeting.

Scott Kirby, a member of the Marine Corps League Detachment 1087 of Wood County, told the senator he took an oath to God as well as country when he joined the military.

“We need to rein in some of these organizations that go after pretty much every Christian belief we have,” Kirby said.

Manchin said he respects all religions, as well as atheists, but he does not think that requires Christianity to be minimized.

“(Atheists) have the right to have no belief,” he said. “But they don’t have the right to chastise me for my beliefs.”