Letters to the Editor - June 23

June 23, 2013

To the editor:

The Founding Fathers knew that governments should not be trusted or believed, and that once given power by the people would abuse that power. History has proved them to be correct.

The two documents that I’m referring to are the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It’s what keeps the government in check, and those in power don’t like it. The government is trying to circumvent both of them to suit its agenda.

If our governments — be it local, state or federal — would truly be “a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” we wouldn’t be referring to those two documents on a daily basis as a means of protection against the tyranny of our governments.

Mike Hebert

Progress is being made in processing VA disability claims

To the editor:

In January, the Baltimore Veterans Affairs regional office was the slowest processing center in the nation with more than 20,000 pending claims. In January, the average wait for claims to be processed in Baltimore was averaging almost one year.

I was outraged and personally offended that our veterans were being treated with disrespect by not having their disability claims processed in a timely manner. I joined U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., in January to demand Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki take immediate steps to address the outstanding claims.

I recently toured the Baltimore VA regional office and I am pleased to report that the VA has taken positive steps in reducing the current backlog of cases.  In February, there had been a backlog of 17,000 cases that were more than 125 days old. By June, that backlog had been reduced to 11,000 cases. In May, the Baltimore VA office had processed more than 3,200 cases, and assured me that its goal is to fully process disability claims within 125 days by 2015.

While I am pleased that progress has been made in reducing the backlog and that there is a pathway to improvement, I want the entire backlog erased as soon as possible. I will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that we devote the resources necessary to ensure prompt processing of disability claims and that there is adequate staffing in place to ensure timely decisions are made on claims.

The Baltimore regional office serves 484,013 veterans living in the State of Maryland — 2 percent of the national veteran population. The regional office’s jurisdiction includes all counties in the State of Maryland and has an assigned staff of 218. It also provides services at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore and transition assistance throughout the state.

Nationally, the slow rate at which the VA processes disability claims is very troublesome. Currently, more than 900,000 veterans wait an average of nine months for their disability claims to be processed. Over the last two years, there has been an increase in the wait for an initial decision from 166 days to 262 days for veterans across the United States, much of that attributed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We made promises to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, and I consider one of the most important promises is that we would provide the services they need if they should become injured or disabled because of their service to our nation. It is time that we fully live up to that promise and make sure disability claims are processed in an efficient and timely manner.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland

Paid firefighters might be needed in county

To the editor:

I noted with interest that during a recent meeting with the County Commissioners, the mayor of Williamsport suggested that his town might be in need of paid firefighters. The mayor came to this conclusion due to the low number of volunteers who are available to respond to emergency fire situations. The event that caused the mayor to realize there was a dangerous shortage of firefighters was the devastating Feb. 4 fire at Wolfe’s on the Square in Williamsport. This fire was a five-alarm event, and the mayor reported to the commissioners that every truck that responded was short-staffed. There were not enough firefighters to properly handle this fire on the scene, even though many units responded in a timely fashion, and those that were there did an excellent job.

The mayor is on the right track. The days of citizens of any jurisdiction being able to depend completely on volunteer firefighters is for the most part over. It is increasingly difficult to get people to volunteer. Times have changed in America, and I believe it is a failed strategy to totally rely on unpaid volunteer firefighters.

Firefighting and fire protective services are a matter of public safety; they are in the same category as police protection.  Who in our community would like to depend on a volunteer police department to protect you? Who among you would like there to be no volunteer available to answer the 911 call of you or a family member? Who wants to be hurt or die because they cannot get professional help? I believe the answer to this question is no one.

I do not suggest that we replace volunteer firefighters completely. What I suggest is that Washington County establish a force of paid firefighters to augment the shortage of volunteers. I know this program would be an added expense; however, if it saves even one life it would more than pay for itself. And I have no doubt that it would save many more than one life.

Rodney Pearson Sr.

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