Valley resident Mike McClure took time off from work on Thursday to ask Congressman Mark Amodei a question.
The retired Marine Corps sergeant major was one of more than 50 people in attendance at the congressman’s town hall meeting on veterans issues.
“I’m very angry they pulled Prime. Nobody’s given me an explanation of why they did it, they just did,” McClure said. “How did they choose what service areas to be eliminated? I feel betrayed. You’ve always heard these stories, but never dreamed it would happen to the veterans.”
McClure, along with hundreds of Valley residents, is a beneficiary of the military insurance TriCare Prime, which requires recipients to pay low annual premiums and co-pays, without a deductible. The Carson Valley is one of 17 Prime service areas, TriCare dissolved in an effort to save money.
As a TriCare Prime recipient, McClure spent about $460 a year on insurance. Forced to buy private insurance, or drive to Sparks to see a doctor, McClure now spends $4,000 a year on insurance.
“You don’t slap a veteran in the face, and that’s what this is,” he added. “I’ve had active duty military guys ask me ‘What are they going to do to us when we retire?’ When you start going after the benefits what do these young guys have to look forward to?”
Amodei agreed with McClure stating that when the cuts were first proposed in October, Department of Defense officials briefed his office. He also added that President Barack Obama’s administration has record cutbacks in Department of Defense spending.
“My problem is that we can’t change the deal in mid-operation on people, or if they’ve already done what they’re supposed to do,” Amodei said of cutting benefits on active duty and retired military. “You can’t go and play with people’s healthcare benefits. I’m beyond disappointed.”
Amodei said the Appropriations Committee is focused on what percentage of healthcare shouldered the burden on budget cuts.
“I suspect that when we learn where we can protect spending and where not, there could be places to create balance,” he said. “TriCare isn’t an entitlement program, you earned it.”
Amodei said he would have a clearer indication of weather the Prime service areas will be restored in the next 180 days when the House of Representatives meets.
”I can’t imagine why somebody would be against it,” he said. “We’ll have to see what the Senate thinks about it.”
James Combs, a representative from United Healthcare, which administers the TriCare plan, said that under the National Defense Authorization Act talks are underway to allow people who were enrolled in TriCare Prime before the cuts to be grandfathered in.
He wasn’t sure when that may take affect.
Budget cuts were also a concern for Gardnerville Ranchos resident Fritz Rubins, a retired Navy commander.
“I put my time in, in good faith and they’re breaking the faith,” the 84-year-old said. “I read a lot about military pilots who are getting out because of budget cuts. They’re not getting the flight time they need and they want out. You’re going to have a hard time maintaining an all-volunteer force if they keep cutting back on benefits.”
Douglas County Commissioner Barry Penzel announced at the town hall meeting that not having a centralized location to address veterans’ needs is a problem.
“In Douglas County, we created Welcome All Veterans Everywhere. Our job is to get the people to the right places. We’ve got enough talk, now it’s time for action.”
He also said he and a group of community members are working on building a veterans center on Kimmerling Road next to the Elks Lodge.
“If this goes like we want it to, it will be a one-stop shop,” he said. “There are a lot of people in this county and other counties who are dedicated to solving problems.”
Representatives from the Governors Office of Veterans Affairs, the Reno VA Hospital, the Veterans Resource Center and the Carson Valley VA Clinic were on hand to answer questions as well.
“One of the reasons we do these meetings quarterly is because the cross section you represent is a phenomenally broad one, and a rich information source,” Amodei said. “I hear your frustration. As we coordinate the resources we have in this area with state folks and the governor’s office we can at least make sure we know we are getting the biggest bang for our buck.”