By Nathan Mayberg
KIAMESHA LAKE June 22, 2004 U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton returned to Sullivan County on Saturday afternoon for the second time this year.
During this visit, she spoke at the Raleigh Hotel in South Fallsburg in front of more than 200 Jewish war veterans and their families.
Like last time, she spoke about her patented subject: health care. But for this audience, her speech centered on the critical health issues facing veterans, as well as the countrys war on terrorism.
Her thoughts echoed those of the group, all members of the Jewish War Veterans organization.
Veterans in New York often wait six months for appointments with physicians at the Veterans Administration hospitals and an additional three months to see a specialist, said Warren Dolny, the chairman of the 108-year-old National Executive Committee of the Jewish War Veterans Association of the United States.
By the time they can see a doctor, they are already dead, he said.
In the meantime, the Veterans Administration has been attempting to shut down several hospitals throughout New York, including one in Manhattan, said Clinton. The senator pledged to continue her fight against the closings.
Funding has decreased, while the need has increased, said Dolny. Over 5,000 soldiers have been injured in Afghanistan and Iraq since the fighting began there nearly three years ago. Billions of dollars are cut out of the budget every year through line transfers, he claimed. If the funding was mandatory, he said it couldnt be cut during the year. Furthermore, it wouldnt have to be argued over in the normal budget process.
The crisis in funding is undeniable, agreed Clinton regarding health care for veterans.
Funding should be increased for New York hospitals, in part, because they are more expensive to run due to the cold winters, she said.
The loudest applause of the day came when she stated her steadfast support to keep the first-rate hospital in Manhattan accessible to the five boroughs.
About 110,000 signatures were obtained to keep other VA hospitals from closing throughout New York. But the fight will continue, she predicted.
According to Clinton, she is the first New York senator to serve on the Armed Services Committee. As part of that service, she has spoken up about one of the problems facing the nation in its war in Iraq: a lack of troops. Nearly 45 percent of the troops in Iraq are guardsmen or reservists.
Make no mistake, we are in a different kind of war. There is no such thing as a front line, she remarked.
New York and Washington, D.C. remain the overwhelming targets for terrorism in this country, according to intelligence reports, she said.
We need to stay united as a country, to stand against any challenge we confront. . . . Because of your connection to Israel, you understand the dangers of terrorism. . . . Because of our freedom, we are the targets of terrorism, said the junior senator.
Gulf War veterans have a higher-than-national-average rate of Lou Gehrigs Disease, said Clinton. She has asked the Defense Department to conduct a study on the issue.
Clinton spoke of the bravery she witnessed from American soldiers during the war on terrorism. She visited Fort Drum, the home of the 10th Mountain Division and the most used force of the last 20 years, and spoke to a soldier who had a grenade thrown into his Jeep in Afghanistan. Rather than throwing it back into a crowded marketplace, he chose to place it under the gearbox, which resulted in him losing his hand and the passenger losing his leg.
After her speech, Clinton was questioned about the latest prescription drug plan most recently passed in Congress.
I voted against it. I thought it was a cruel hoax, she responded. It set up a system that is not going to work.
The legislation which passed does not allow the government to negotiate the drug prices.
This administration wants to drive prices up for the pharmaceutical industry. . . . It is a big Trojan horse . . . [and] we are stuck with it until after the election.
The legislation will not kick in until 2006.
After she left the stage, Clinton was questioned regarding her strategic opinion on the war in Iraq.
We have to do what we are doing, she acknowledge, but added, It has been poorly planned and executed.
She expressed discomfort with the planned transition of control to a provisional government in the coming weeks.
We have lost opportunities, remarked the former first lady.
Dolny said he had been trying for years to obtain Clinton for a speech. Clinton said she saw him everywhere she went and finally agreed. She receives over 20,000 requests to speak each year, said Dolny.
More importantly to him, however, is obtaining the proper health treatment for the veterans.
The government promised medical care to those who served. . . . It is an entitlement, he said. We put our lives on the line.
That promise is not being kept, in his view, due to the lack of funding for physicians and the annual cuts to their budget.
He was nevertheless appreciative of Clintons efforts to support the cause of veterans.
Dale Irizarry, longtime director of sales at the Raleigh Hotel, called Clintons visit an honor. Im sorry Mannie [Halbert, the owner who recently passed away] wasnt here to see her.