U.S. Sen. Tim Scott got an earful from frustrated veterans and others on Monday afternoon during a campaign trail stop in Rock Hill.
Scott, a Republican, is running in 2014 for one of two South Carolina seats in the U.S. Senate. The state’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham, is also running for re-election.
Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Scott last year to replace Jim DeMint, who gave up his seat to become president of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative political think-tank.
Scott’s visit to Freedom Temple Ministries in Rock Hill was one of three stops he made on Monday to speak with potential South Carolina voters. Earlier in the day, he appeared in Greenville, first at Bob Jones University and then at a “First Monday” Republican forum meeting.
His audience in Rock Hill peppered him with questions about fixing a broken education system, reducing the nation’s debt and solving the issue of tens of millions of Americans who do not have health insurance.
Scott supports repealing the Affordable Care Act – which he called the “unaffordable care act” on Monday – and allowing private health insurance companies to compete across state lines. He wants small businesses to be able to pool their employees with other small businesses’ employees in order to cut health care coverage costs.
The Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, may eventually reduce the number of uninsured people, but the new law is set to raise health care costs and add to the nation’s debt problem, Scott said
Many from the local group Carolina Veterans Commission voiced concerns on Monday about the nation’s backlog of paperwork keeping some veterans from obtaining their benefits.
The group offers free help to veterans filing benefit claims – many of whom have difficulty because their service records have been destroyed or lost. Others face long waiting periods because of what group members call red tape at the Veterans Affairs office.
They asked Scott on Monday to find a way to help pay for some of the commission’s services, which they say are necessary to help veterans navigate the confusing process at the government-run Veterans Affairs offices.
Grady Meeks, a 65-year-old Vietnam War combat veteran, said he lives by the motto “we take care of our own.”
Since starting to help other veterans file their claims in 2005, he said, he’s helped veterans secure nearly $5 million in benefits they deserve.
“It’s been tough,” Meeks said. “It’s like pulling teeth.”
A disabled veteran himself, Meeks said he’s seen other veterans with injuries from service wait up to five years to get military benefits.
On Monday, he called on Scott to find a way to “simplify the process” and make sure employees at Veterans Affairs offices are properly trained.
Carolina Veterans Commission holds weekly workshops in Rock Hill to help veterans file benefit claims. About 15 volunteers with the group are paying for expenses out of their own pockets, said Cecil N. Battles, 50, an Army combat medic veteran.
The group has a 99 percent success rate in helping veterans secure their deserved benefits, Battles said.
He and others feel the need to assist veterans who are filing claims because they say there’s little help available at the official Veterans Affairs offices.
Scott told the group he understands their frustrations about the backlog and difficulty surrounding military benefits for veterans.
The federal government’s allocation of taxpayer dollars to veterans’ benefits has increased recently, he said, and his office employs staff members solely dedicated to aiding veterans with issues such as filing claims for benefits.
The red tape can be daunting but some is necessary, Scott says, to prevent benefit fraud and protect those who have served in the military.
And, he said, his solution to helping groups such as the Carolina Veterans Commission could be to guide them toward grant money available to nonprofit organizations that assist veterans – not to take money away from Veterans Affairs.
Anna Douglas 803-329-4068