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Lawmakers help celebrate VA clinic

June 16, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

by RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Barbara Mikulski

The new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic at the Western Maryland Hospital Center held its grand opening Monday with some help from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Monday.

"Here I am on my little stool ready to stand up for Maryland veterans and all veterans," Mikulski said.

"This is what makes being in Congress worthwhile," she said.

She said veterans need the care that the clinic will provide, and that it was the least a grateful nation could do.

"You are the G.I. Joe generation that saved Western civilization," she told a crowd of about 130, most of whom were local veterans.

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Bartlett said the clinic was about a nation keeping its promises to veterans.

"We realize that if you are going to live in the land of the free you have to honor the brave," he said.

Bartlett said the way the nation treats its veterans now will affect recruiting and retention efforts for the military in the future.

The clinic, which has served 700 to 800 veterans since it opened six weeks ago, provides primary care, counseling, lab tests and other basic medical services.

The Hagerstown location will save some veterans the drive to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The clinic is expected to serve more than 10,000 of the 47,000 veterans in Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland, and Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania.

Mikulski said she's not done fighting for veterans.

"We need long-term care up here," she said.

In an interview, Mikulski said she would work to fund a Western Maryland Veterans Home, but said she needs to lay the groundwork first.

"I need to show it's a compelling human need and not just Mikulski pork barrel," she said.

She said the federal budget included $90 million for state veterans homes nationwide.

Joint Veterans Council President James Sprecher said a meeting of veterans, the Washington County Commissioners and members of the county's state legislative delegation will be held Thursday at 10 a.m. at the American Legion Morris Frock Post 42 to discuss efforts to land a veterans home.

Mikulski said that she helped quash an attempt to cut veterans' benefits to pay for highway construction, and said she would offer an amendment to the tobacco bill that would provide some money from new tobacco taxes for VA medical care.

Veterans' benefits should be a "partisan-free zone," she said.

Mikulski said she's trying to get things done despite a negative atmosphere in Washington, D.C.

"We are surrounded by a toxic cloud of allegations and counter-allegations. I say the heck with allegations, what about an agenda?"

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