PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - Congressman Tom Rooney held a forum today in Punta Gorda to listen to local veterans' concerns. They had a lot of them, from long waits for disability claims to high suicide rates, one particular issue Rooney is working to change.
Years after they've retired from the military, local vets are still fighting for benefits they say the government owes them
"Everybody's worried about the economy, with the foreclosures and stuff," veteran Terry Lynn said. "A lot of it, when it comes to the veterans, it's not their own fault. They're being foreclosed on because it's taken 15-18 months to give them what they rightfully earned."
"It really hurts to see a lot of the veterans out there that are homeless and don't have a place to live ," veteran John Kalena said.
Too often, the stress of coming home from war is a fight they just can't win.
"These combat veterans coming back are not getting screened properly before they get out of service. They are introduced to a brand new society they're not used to.," one veteran said.
That has lead to what Congressman Tom Rooney says, is an unacceptable military suicide rate. "As George Washington said, you can rate a country by how it treats its veterans and I think our treatment of veterans needs to improve," Rooney said.
Currently, service members are required to simply fill out a mental health assessment before returning home. He's pushing a bill that would make mental health screenings mandatory. Rooney explained, "Between this amount of time and this amount of time, you will see a mental health professional, regardless of if you're claiming you have stress."
Rooney says he is still waiting for a committee hearing for the bill. In the meantime, he's sent a handwritten letter to Michelle Obama asking for her support.