Governor honors vets; Congress members hear concerns

Older veterans receive service awards; younger vets voice concerns

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott presented long-overdue honors to a group of older military veterans in St. Augustine on Thursday while three members of Congress heard the concerns of younger veterans in Jacksonville.

At the Clyde E. Lassen State Veterans Nursing Home in St. Johns County -- one of six veterans nursing home in Florida -- some received another ribbon for their collection. For others, the Governor's Veterans Service Award was the first honor and recognition of their sacrifice and service.

"I have not received anything special. I was a hospital corpsman in Vietnam. Had two guys killed; three wounded. I was one of the wounded, but I didn't get a Purple Heart," said Richard Ramieres, one of those honored Thursday.

Scott said veterans like Ramieres make him think about his father.

"He never made a lot of money, never got a lot of recognition," Scott said. "There are probably a lot of people like that out here."

A total of 69 veterans were personally awarded honors by Gov. Scott on Thursday. For dozens of other residents with dementia for whom it was difficult to attend the ceremony, staff went to the patients' rooms.

The executive director of Florida's Department of Veterans Affairs said honoring those who have served their country only one of the things they do.

"Florida is the most veteran-friendly state in the nation. We work hard to ensure our veterans get access to the benefits they earned by serving our country," said retired Army Col. Mike Prendergast, executive director of Florida's Department of Veterans Affairs.

A few hours earlier and a few miles north, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, Corrine Brown and Jeff Miller met with the leaders of area veterans groups at the Clara White Mission. The members of Congress from Florida asked to hear their concerns so they could take those issues back to Washington.

"If a veteran gets injured, goes through medical rehab, medical discharge, then there's a 270-day wait before the VA even recognizes them – so that's the part that needs to be fixed," said Scott Brown, a 28-year Navy veteran.

Scott said the numbers of veterans needing services should not come as a surprise.

"This is not the first time we've brought veterans home in large masses. Done in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam," Scott said. "We should be better at this."

Jones Peterson, a Florida VA claims specialist, said they need more resources to address the backlog.

"We average 10,000 claims per year -- just two of us. We file those claims, not only for veteran, but for families as well," Peterson said. "It's totally rewarding, because you see the outcome."

While critical of the delays, Brown didn't fault the services received once in the system.

"The VA healthcare is absolutely wonderful system – once you get to the doctor," Brown said. "The process for recognition of veterans to get them to the doctor needs some work."

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