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US Sen. Cortez Masto meets with local veterans

Elko Daily Free Press - 8/26/2022

Aug. 26—ELKO — U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) stopped in Elko on Thursday morning for a roundtable discussion with local veterans that included an update on the Elko National Cemetery and gathered input about the status of services.

Masto has been instrumental in the approval of the rural national cemetery to be located in Elko that provides burial benefits to about 3,700 veterans and eligible family members in the Elko region.

"Elko has a strong and inspiring veterans community, and I've worked hard in the Senate to deliver for them and their families," said Cortez Masto. "From cutting through red tape to ensure Elko was approved for a new national veterans cemetery to passing bipartisan legislation to provide critical health care and benefits to America's veterans, I'll always stand up for Nevada's veterans."

During the gathering it was announced the groundbreaking for the cemetery is expected to be next spring.

"We're incredibly grateful for Senator Cortez Masto's advocacy with the VA to secure the construction of a National Veterans Cemetery in Elko," said Gil Hernandez, Commander of Elko'sVeterans of Foreign Wars Post 2350 and member of the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery Advisory Committee. "We've been working to secure this cemetery for years and its completion will mean so much to our veteran population and their families."

Assemblyman John Ellison was at the roundtable and said he was "excited" about the cemetery "but wish we could push it a little faster."

"We've got people going to other states or counties when they should be right here in their own community," he said.

Cortez Masto spoke to a group of 10 veterans at the VFW Hall, describing several pieces of legislation she has supported and voted on in Congress.

In August, she voted to pass vital legislation to treat veterans exposed to toxins in the line of duty. In December, her legislation to protect VA benefits for student veterans was signed into law. She recently introduced bipartisan legislation to make it easier for veterans who have a service-related medical condition to get the benefits they are owed.

Cortez Masto has passed legislation through the annual National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) to help veterans exposed to Agent Orange get the treatment they need.

As part of the NDAA of 2021, she secured measures to improve mental health services for members of the National Guard and Reserves, support veterans in getting the retirement benefits owed to them, and increase the transparency and efficiency of the Department of Defense's TRICARE medical billing practices.

During the roundtable discussion, Ellison asked Cortez Masto about the toxin exposure legislation, adding that veterans who served eventually died of lung cancer. "We've got to make sure those families keep getting the support they need."

Former Marine Lyman Hatfield attended the roundtable, explaining that he wasn't involved in politics but that it was an opportunity to voice his opinion.

"I love my country," Hatfield said, adding this was the second time he spoke to the Senator. "I'm beginning to realize that maybe I need to be more involved."

VFW member Larry Young was at the roundtable and thought it was "very good that she could come out here because a lot of the things she brought up are some issues a lot of people have. It's good that she gets the information directly from us than hearsay."

Kacie Ortiz, Veterans Service Officer, brought up local needs to the senator such as a lack of transportation to Salt Lake City to the VA Hospital and slow responses to veterans who file paperwork or try to make phone calls.

"We've advocated for so long trying to get the changes made and we need somebody at the top that can make it happen because we haven't seen a lot of change going straight to the source," Ortiz said. "Hopefully she can get it done."

Before being approved earlier this year, Elko had been under consideration for a veterans cemetery since 2011, when the VA's Rural Initiative identified the area as in need of a National Veterans Burial Ground. The closest veterans cemeteries for regional veterans and their families are currently over 200 miles away — in either Fernley or Salt Lake City.


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