Here To Listen

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, listens to veterans at the Mark A. Moore American Legion Post No. 3 in Flagstaff Tuesday. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, visited Flagstaff veterans midday on Tuesday to ask what they needed or wanted, ahead of an assignment to sit on a House committee concerned with veterans' affairs.

Kirkpatrick asked about jobs, homelessness, post-traumatic-stress disorder, college assistance programs and support groups for female veterans.

Four veterans gathered at Flagstaff's American Legion told her suicide was a top concern, based on their reading of news reports.

"That's a serious problem," Kirkpatrick responded.

They weren't always sure where to send homeless veterans, they said.

They had mixed opinions about whether psychological help was more accessible or less since a Veterans Affairs clinic moved from Bellemont to Flagstaff in 2011 -- some like the physical and mental care, others were less emphatic.

"It's been great to see the clinic here," said Bob Reyes, a longtime local advocate for veterans.

Navajo Nation veterans and troops and those who are young and recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan seem out of the loop, they said.

They told Kirkpatrick this demographic has been hit hard by the economic downturn, including the decrease in local construction work.

And the group has been getting a number of questions from young veterans attempting to go to college but facing obstacles, Reyes said.

He described instances where young prospective college students couldn't start courses, including a local single mother.

"Some of what I'm hearing is they're not getting the money, or it's slow in coming through, and they can't go back to school," Reyes told Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick's staff will likely look into specific cases, as the staff of U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Doney Park, had been doing previously.

In response to questions on other issues, Kirkpatrick said separately that Washington must resolve the debt ceiling impasse.

"It's important that we not do anything that hurts the current economic recovery," she said.

And she opposes major cutbacks to federal programs that could come with sequestration -- funding reductions set to happen automatically -- if Congress and the White House don't take action this spring.

"There are areas of fraud and waste and abuse in government spending," she said.

But she added that she didn't want to see Headstart programs or rural schools on tribal lands closed.

Kirkpatrick was sworn into office for a second term on Jan. 3.

She's expecting to become the ranking minority member of a subcommittee overseeing one aspect of issues pertaining to veterans.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at ccole@azdailysun.com or at 913-8607.

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