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Iowa U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne talks COVID-19 in roundtable with veterans

Andrew Brown
Dallas County News
U.S. Congresswoman Cindy Axne speaks during the Rural Broadband Roundtable on Tuesday, June 23 in Adel.

Iowa U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne met with Dallas County-area leaders on veterans' issues for a conversation mainly focused on COVID-19 and the impacts of the pandemic on veterans. 

"I'm thankful for everyone who helps out our veterans and I'm glad to do anything I can to help as well," Axne said during the Tuesday, Jan. 12 virtual roundtable. "There are a few issues we can all come together with in a bipartisan fashion and veterans is always one of them." 

Axne has advocated for veterans with a national defense bill and support of military members and their families. Tuesday's conversation included messages from members of the Veterans Affairs organization, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and more. Alongside that main topic, Axne also stressed an underlying tone of support for the Midwest and the area as a whole. 

Related:U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne says 'better safe than sorry' in canceling in-person events following U.S. Capitol attack

"Never will this job be about anything but making sure our voices in the Midwest have a seat at the table," Axne said. "I wanted to make sure we had a strong voice for the Midwest for our veterans, their families, and their children. We're intertwined and I'm trying to make sure everyone in the House understands the value of rural America to urban America." 

Group talks about veterans' health care, opportunities

Of the several COVID-19 obstacles to veterans that were discussed included the exact type of vaccine and what can work here in the Midwest and for veterans. 

"We are receiving the Moderna vaccine as opposed to the Pfizer vaccine," Veterans Affairs public affairs officer Jerry Self Jr. said. "The folks that received the Pfizer vaccine are mainly the research hospitals. They already have the capability to store that vaccine while we mainly get the Moderna vaccine which is easier to transport for us." 

Leaders expressed concerns about delays in health care claims. 

"The biggest delay we've seen is with the disability claims," Dallas County Veterans Affairs Director Nick Praska said. "There seems to be a lack of contract providers and a delay in the system of getting exams done which is really affecting getting some of the benefits out to our veterans." 

That has induced a sort of domino effect into other areas of getting care to veterans, he said. 

"There's been a lot of delays due to COVID-19," Praska said. "There has been an issue of sub-contracted providers not getting paid so they quit, which has caused a shortage of providers which now has caused a back log. We're seeing some veterans waiting six months just to get an exam for their disability benefits. Some issues include 3-4 months from the time they receive the exam to the time they're uploaded to the system and getting worked. Since COVID-19 first happened and no exams were allowed, it's created such a back log in the pay system."

Right now, Praska said, roughly 50% of the veterans in Dallas County have been reaching out for the vaccine. Praska and others brought up different national websites for veterans and others to go to about the vaccine and benefits they may receive. Those websites include myhealthevet.va.gov among others that the VA from the local to the national level is pushing hard for members and non-members to use. 

That, brought up another issue that Axne has been focused on over the past year: "This is where I get frustrated," Axne said. "I'm glad we have all these websites and access ... (but) they think everyone has connectivity and they don't." 

The group also discussed what veterans need to succeed on a daily basis. 

"Something that concerns me that is that at least 90% of our members need caregivers and they need to have the vaccine too," said Kenny Lloyd of the Paralyzed Veterans of America organization.

In central Iowa, there are approximately 100 veterans with spinal cord injuries while Iowa Citiy's numbers are near 200, according to Self and the VA. 

"Without our caregivers, our members are in real trouble," Lloyd said. "It's a lot cheaper to take care of our veterans at home instead of sending them to the hospital or a nursing home." 

Axne also talked about opportunities for veterans in terms of employment and more. 

"After this past week, it has hit home even more what you do for this country in our military and what that means," Axne said. "I see nothing but home as we sit on the precipice of opportunity from an economic standpoint as we move forward with clean energy and sustainable agriculture.

"These are new markets for Iowans. I've already been on a bill to open up a carbon market for us. We've got so much opportunity for us in creating new jobs. All of that translates to helping our communities which then translates to helping our veterans and making sure that those within our own communities are protected and not an afterthought compared to some of the bigger state which have more urban population." 

Capitol invasion 'never should have happened' in US

The Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol shed a more cautious light on travel for Axne and was a big reason why the roundtable moved to a virtual format.

"Unfortunately with conversations related to the attack on the Capitol last week, it's another example of being pulled away from doing the people's work because of something that should have honestly never happened in our country," Axne said. "That has disrupted my schedule because of that — not to mention my staff. The last thing, as a mom, that I want to do is put any of my staff in danger. As much as I trust Iowans, last week was a pretty good example of you just don't know. I would rather err on the side of caution." 

Fighting off tears, Axne wrapped up by answering questions regarding possible impeachment and more thoughts on the attack on the Capitol. 

"Once again we're at a point where no one wants to be here, I don't want to be talking about impeachment again," she said. "We had (a Capitol officer) killed by Americans. We need to hold those inciters accountable, including the president. I believe he's a danger to this country. 

"If our president won't come out and talk to the families of the officers fallen, I'm not sure about his care for this country and I think he's unfit to lead us over the next 10days."