IOWA CITY — The need to improve health care for veterans was driven home for U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton by a text message he got this week from a Marine Moulton served with in Iraq.
The veteran said he’d been contemplating suicide so he decided to call the Veterans Affairs Health Care System mental health line for an appointment, Moulton told about 30 people at the University of Iowa Friday. The soonest the veteran could get in was May 15 — more than six weeks later.
“This can’t be the way we deal with this,” Moulton said, reading his friend’s message from the screen of his phone.
Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and former Marine Corps officer who served four tours of duty in Iraq, spoke at a veterans roundtable Friday at the UI law school.
Moulton, 40, isn’t officially a presidential candidate — he plans to decide in the next few weeks — but he’s touring states with early primaries or caucuses and talked on Friday like he’d like to be in the White House.
Speeding health care to veterans has been one of Moulton’s priorities since he was elected to Congress in 2014. Soon after he was sworn in 2015, he was admitted to the VA hospital — where he’s kept his health care so he knows how other veterans are treated — for a hernia.
“I gave them my Social Security number and my name,” Moulton said. “They said ‘We can’t prove you’re a veteran.’ I sat down by some other vets, who said they had waited 5 1/2 hours.”
Moulton said he was treated by a fantastic surgeon, but when he was discharged to go back to Congress, he received the wrong medicine.
“Veterans deserve the best health care in the world, period,” he said.
Moulton sponsored the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, which established an 18-month pilot program at three VA hospitals allowing veterans to use a website and app to schedule and confirm appointments.
Alex Jaime, a UI senior from Chicago and ROTC member who will start field artillery training this summer, asked Moulton whether it was hard being a Democrat in the military.
“I get that there’s this overall perception that the entire military is conservative,” Moulton said. “Why do guns stand for patriotism and not the Constitution? We should be the party that says, ‘We’re standing up for the Constitution.” We should teach the country that it’s patriotic to do what Colin Kaepernick is doing. It’s also patriotic to want to protect our flag.”
Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, was criticized by some, including President Donald Trump, for kneeling during the national anthem.
Moulton said he supports decriminalizing marijuana and has advocated for legislation that allows veterans to ask their doctors whether cannabis would be better than opioids for treatment.
When Jake English, a third-year law student from Des Plaines, Ill., asked if there’s anything Trump has done well, Moulton said he agrees the U.S. needs to stand up to China in cases of intellectual property theft. But “we should be talking about a cyber wall, not a border wall,” Moulton said.
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