Veterans remain hot topic in race for Congress

NASHUA – “I understand that it’s not enough to wave the flag and just say ‘thank you,'” U.S. Rep Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said, noting citizens have to follow that up with action for those who have sacrificed so much so that “we can continue enjoying our freedoms.”

The congresswoman was in Nashua to announce her Veterans for Annie Coalition, a 100-plus member group, and highlighted her work to improve access to care and support services, address housing needs and expand job opportunities for veterans and their families.

“New Hampshire has a strong tradition of military service,” Kuster said. “You may not realize this, but we are among the top states in the country for the percentage of veterans in our population, and you are all here today who have bravely honored that tradition by answering the call of duty.”

Surrounded by supporters, some of whom were sporting articles of clothing signifying their service, Kuster was introduced by two veterans, Dan Toomey and Terry Shumaker. Toomey served as an Air Force medic during the Vietnam era, and Shumaker was a captain in the U.S. Army.

After the two spoke on behalf of their support for the incumbent congresswoman, Kuster took to the podium. During her speech, she explained the great honor she’s had serving three terms on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs because of the opportunity she said it’s given her to enact meaningful change for our veterans.

“As Terry and Dan both alluded to, while much of Washington suffers from gridlock and dysfunction, I’m proud to say that our committee – it may be the very last bipartisan committee on Capitol Hill – but this Congress, our VA Committee, has advanced more than 80 bills, most of those bipartisan,” Kuster said.

However, on the other side, running against her with the Republican Party is Steve Negron of Nashua, who said he believes she could be doing more. Nonetheless, something the two candidates can both agree on is there’s still a lot of work to be done to better support veterans residing in the Granite State and beyond.

“I would say Annie Kuster has had six years in Congress to try to fix some of these things, and I don’t think she’s done as much as she possibly can,” Negron said.

He went on to explain that if you are going to battle for veteran benefits that it needs to be an everyday fight – because “veterans are out on the front lines serving us every day.” He said he plans to lace up his boots, so to speak, and be sure to bring a loud voice to Capitol Hill when it comes to veterans’ issues. He said, right now, of the 435 members in Congress, only 79 have a veteran status. He hopes to increase that number come Election Day in November, and growing up in a military family and being a veteran himself, he’s seen things from both sides, both actively serving and supporting family members from home.

“I am a veteran, retired Air Force, my wife’s a retired Air Force veteran, my dad is a retired Air Force veteran and my son is currently serving in the Air Force,” Negron said. ”

His second son also is about to enlist in the Air Force, and as of right now, his family has a combined 109 years of military experience.

“I’ve lived it all, and I’m going to be a huge voice and advocate in Congress when I’m elected,” Negron said.

If elected, he said he plans to support veterans issues ranging from A – Z, including key ones like access to health care and housing. “First of all, the thing for me is veterans issues is not political,” Negron said. “Veterans issues are above that. It’s about a debt owed to these men and women.”

While he remains focused on the work that still remains with improving access to support for veterans returning home and already residing in the Granite State, Kuster recognized some significant accomplishments that have already been made, including Nashua putting an end to veteran homelessness.

“Nashua, New Hampshire, is one of the places in this country where we have reached effective zero of homelessness for veterans, and what that means is that if a veteran finds themself compromised with their housing that they can immediately get access to care and get access to opportunities for more secure housing, and that’s a real milestone.”

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.