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.
Photo by Evan Bevins
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, center, greets Washington, W.Va., Air Force veteran Larry Butcher, left, and Marine Corps League member Bud Williams as he arrives at a veterans roundtable Wednesday at the Army National Guard Armory in Williamstown.
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.
Manchin on Other Topics
* On Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and negotiations to keep U.S. troops in that country beyond 2014:
"I have never been more incensed in my life than (over) the demands Karzai's putting in. ... The man's a thief; he's a thug. ... They've (Karzai and his brother) stolen more from Americans than anybody I know in that part of the world."
* On extending unemployment benefits:
"Sooner or later, you ought to say we've got to wean ourselves off of it."
* On tax reform:
Manchin said a number of loopholes, offsets and tax credits need to be eliminated so every citizen and corporation pays their fair share. "That should give us the revenues we need. We can even lower the rates."
* On working with a group of moderate Democratic and Republican lawmakers:
"You gotta be an American first. ... If you're going to move forward, you have to bring your ally and your adversary with you. You can't move by yourself."
* On his political priorities:
The senator said his party and his own political well-being don't top the list. "I keep thinking, 'What's the worst they can do to me?' I guess they can defeat me and send me home. ... That's a pretty good consolation prize."
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."