Veteran Ray Plummer spent some one-on-one time with Sen. Kelly Ayotte during her recent stop at the New Hampshire Veterans’ Home in Tilton. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
August 29, 2012TILTON — Sen. Kelly Ayotte paid a visit to the New Hampshire Veterans' Home in Tilton last Tuesday to talk with residents about recent actions in Washington, D.C. and address any of their questions or concerns.
Ayotte, who was elected to Congress in 2010, was introduced to a gathering in the Tarr Dining Hall at NHVH by Commandant Barry Conway, who explained that the Senator was not only a great friend to NHVH, but a member of the Armed Services Committee, and holds a great interest in national security.
"She's spearheaded a lot of legislation and initiatives in Washington, and she knows her stuff," Conway said.
Ayotte is the wife of an Air Force veteran who served in Bosnia and both Gulf Wars. As a senator, she said she also traveled to Afghanistan to meet with troops serving there from New Hampshire.
"I don't need to tell you that our men and women over there are incredible," she said. "We in Washington need what you all here have, and that's a little more courage."
The Senator told the group she is concerned, however, about potential future cuts to the military. One of the most serious decisions she said she may be facing will be how to best spend taxpayer money while ensuring that those serving in the armed forces have all they need when it comes to technology, supplies and support in order to stay safe.
On a trip to the Philippines with Sen. John McCain, Ayotte said she was very upset to find that a cemetery at the now abandoned Clark Air Force Base has been left unattended except for a small group of local volunteers. She told the veterans at NHVH that she has since introduced a bill for the United States to "step up and take responsibility" for the cemetery, where many U.S. service men and women have been laid to rest.
"I want to see their gravesites treated as a hallowed ground, as it should be," Ayotte said.
Resident David Clark took the opportunity to ask Ayotte if a full service veterans' hospital would be a reality one day in the state, and she said a bill has been introduced for the creation of such a hospital in New Hampshire, but it has yet to be addressed in the U.S. Senate.
She reported that she and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen have been working together to increase veterans' services in the state. Their concern surrounds the lack of medical services for veterans, especially in the northern towns where people must travel to southern cities for medical treatment. The pair are currently looking to develop a care center in Coos County but the work, Ayotte said, doesn't stop there. New Hampshire is the only state in the nation without a full service veterans' hospital, despite the number of veterans who live here.
"We have the second highest per capita rate of veterans in the country. New Hampshire serves," she said.
Despite party differences between the two senators, Ayotte assured the residents of NHVH that both she and Shaheen would continue to work diligently to bring the services and care all New Hampshire veterans deserve.
Residents had a turn at the microphone to express their thoughts as well, and one veteran spoke out on the failure of Congress to come up with a budget. Ayotte agreed with his displeasure, and said she felt if a budget agreement is not reached, Congress should go without pay, a statement that was met with applause from the veterans.
Those who attended Ayotte's meet and greet session were impressed by her words and her presence at the Veterans' Home for a visit.
"It's nice seeing women becoming more involved in business and politics today," said Navy veteran John Noonan.
After walking around the room to personally speak with everyone, Ayotte then had a tour of the new women's wing at NHVH. She was impressed with the layout, and the freedom it allowed the women who have also served the nations in nursing and many other fields during past wars.
During the course of her visit, the Senator also commended the staff of NHVH, thanking them for their care and concern for the nation's veterans. Ayotte was impressed to be greeted at the front desk once again by Ida Harris when she arrived. Harris told her she has worked at NHVH for 16 years, and has served for 25 years as a volunteer.
"That's impressive," said Ayotte. "Everyone knows when they come to the Veterans' Home, they'll see you. I appreciate that very much."
As one employee assured her before the Senator left, "Patriotism oozes from the walls here."