U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, told a group of Ogdensburg war veterans he understood their frustrations in dealing unsuccessfully with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA is a very difficult bureaucracy to work you way through, Mr. Owens told a group of about 25 veterans at a meeting at Ogdensburg City Hall.
But the congressman, himself a former U.S. Air Force captain, added that it would be wrong to dismiss the agency as faceless, heartless and careless.
I think its underfunded, overwhelmed, Mr. Owens said.
Officials from the VA hospital in Syracuse will be here Oct. 24 to discuss local group Operation Veterans campaign to set up a north country VA hospital in the vacant former Pritchard building at the state-run St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg.
The VA hospitals in Syracuse and Albany, one Operation Veterans member said, are no easy drive down the road to get to.
Its just too far for them to drive, said Susan J. Rupert. If we could get something closer.
Mr. Owens warned the Operation Veterans group it faced a rolling the ball uphill battle. But he said the Oct. 24 meeting was a credible start.
Mr. Owens also had encouraging words for veterans who support House Bill 2052, the Fort McLellan Health Registry Act, which he favors. It seeks a full health records accounting of soldiers who were stationed at the U.S. Army base in Alabama between January 1935 and May 1999 and were exposed to chemical agents while there.
In the 1950s, according to reports, a Chemical Corps School - CCS - was set up at the fort, offering training in chemical warfare. CCS personnel were reportedly used to test decontamination methods for biological and chemical weapons, including nerve agents and sulfur mustard.
Mr. Owens urged the local veterans to enlist other veterans groups and key members of Congress to support the bill.
You need people to help you push it along, he said.
The Oct. 24 meeting will be at the Dobisky Center, 100 Riverside Drive, at 1 p.m.