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Healthcare, veterans among topics during Denham tele-town hall
Residents pose questions of congressman
Denham file photo
Rep. Jeff Denham, pictured here at a Ceres function in April, conducted an telephone town hall meeting last week. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Although Congressman Jeff Denham was in Washington, D.C. Wednesday night, June 28, he still made time for his constituents by hosting a telephone town hall meeting, answering questions from the residents of District 10 regarding a variety of issues, from healthcare to mailbox theft.

"This telephone town hall is just one more way for me to communicate with all of you while I'm in Washington, D.C.," said Denham. "This is not a substitute for our local town halls...this is just an opportunity for me to be able to talk to you in the comfort of your own home."

Below are some of the top questions from District 10 constituents along with Denham's answers.

Q. Gordon from Modesto: What is happening to our once really great postal system? I cannot walk to a mailbox to put in a letter because the mailbox is gone, and I can't put mail into my mailbox because it will get stolen. I want know what's happening; the postage keeps going up, and people steal and nothing seems to happen to them.

A: This is certainly something that has happening throughout the Central Valley. One of the biggest questions that has come up is cluster boxes. As cluster boxes have seen greater growth in the Valley, it also creates a bigger target for those that are willing to...try and steal mail or even steal identity. We are trying to make sure that the United States Postal Service has the ability to have multiple keys, rather than a universal key, because those universal keys have been counterfeited and then we see these boxes broken into. I also believe that there needs to be a stronger penalty. Our postal service has made great improvements - it was a couple years ago that there was a lot of talk about cutting the postal service from six days down to five, and now our postal service is delivering packages seven days a week. It's part of the security of our country, having a service that can deliver medication or emergency deliveries when there might be a time of threat or danger. So, our postal service has done some new great things, but trying to have new efficiencies with these cluster boxes has created some big challenges not only for the postal service but for local law enforcement as well. We've got a job to do to make sure there is safety and security with our mail delivery.

Q. Patricia from Hughson: How soon will the veterans hospital in French Camp be built?

A: 2018. They're finalizing the plans right now, and it's already been approved, already been funded, but because we are doing it under the Army Corps of Engineers instead of the VA, they are finalizing their plans on the overall construction. It's supposed to break ground at the beginning of 2018.

Q. Greg from Riverbank: I'm an Air Force veteran from Vietnam, and I appreciate everything that the VA is doing for us, but the only concern I have is that they're building these hospitals but how are they going to fill them with doctors and nurses? It's like building a ship, but we don't have anyone to sail it.

A: This is a focus of mine. I agree that our medical clinics, our veterans clinics are doing a good job while they're seeing a big surge. Because we have such a high veteran population here, we are seeing some backlogs. We also see a lot of our veterans that have to travel all the way down to Palo Alto, which is why we've got to expedite French Camp. Your concern is one that we have as well; we've got to make sure that we have the most qualified doctors and nurses in French Camp as well as all of our medical facilities. One of the things I want to see done is making sure that those that are on active duty have the ability to work in these veterans hospitals. Part of the reason that veterans want to be seen at a veterans hospital is not only the specialty of the challenges that we've seen at war, but veterans just want to be seen by other veterans and I think it's important that we not only put a great focus on this, but actually make sure the reimbursement rate is competitive and actually higher than what we see at the state level. Right now...we're 48th out of 50 in the country even though we are one of the most prosperous states in the country. We don't reimburse our medical staff the way that they're supposed to be and it's extremely uncompetitive. From a federal level, the VA has to ramp up its incentives for those doctors, especially if we open up French Camp, which will be built on time and on budget. This will be the first hospital that's actually built by the Army Corps of Engineers, and it is a big focus of ours to get it done now.

Q: Richard from Modesto, I think the ENLIST Act is an intriguing thing that you're doing, but I'm concerned that it goes so far but only serves a narrow slice of the immigrant population. I was wondering if you had considered the impact to those who would want to serve but are not accepted by the military, or those who don't want to particularly do military service but would gladly serve in some other capacity in the government. Have you considered that, or are there other plans in the works for those immigrants as well?

A: I agree 100 percent. This does not solve all of our immigration problems and it certainly doesn't solve all of the issues for DREAMers. This is one small sliver that allows us to start the debate, start the discussion on all aspects of immigration, and I agree that there are other ways to serve your country...but this is one that I believe that we can not only get bipartisan support, but one we can move out of the House very quickly. I think it's a great starting point to have a discussion. This is the greatest act of patriotism and this is the first ability to not only get your legal permanent resident status, but it will be the fastest pathway to citizenship as well.

Q. Ron: I think the overriding issue in the country right now is the medical care, the Affordable Care Act, and the whole discussion about this. What I don't understand is why the Affordable Care Act or your programs cannot be modeled after the same medical care that you have. You guys have a great medical plan, you can even retire after five years. Nobody gets to do that. I know you're against entitlements, but I don't understand why we can't have the same great medical plan that the Congress and senators have.

A: I have never taken the government health care - I've always been on my own plan and I do not get retirement after five years. That's just not factual, but let me say that under the bill we passed Congress actually has to live by the same exact laws that we pass. There will not be any exceptions for members of Congress - everybody will have to have the same health care, but it ought to be quality health care for everyone. I've been one to say that under the ACA there were some good things that happened in our community, having more people insured under Medi-Cal is a good thing, but our challenge came way before the ACA. We had a shortage of doctors before the ACA, we had full emergency rooms before the ACA and both of those situations have gotten worse, so while costs have gone up, and taxes and fees have gone up, we still have an access to care issue and we need to make sure its quality care for everyone. We've got a lot of work to do, and right now it was a very divisive bill before I got here, passing the ACA, and it's certainly been partisan as we've had a bill here in the majority, but a variety of bills that are coming up over the next few months I would expect to be very bipartisan. There's certainly a divide between Republicans and Democrats whether there should be a government mandate, but still there ought to be affordable healthcare and great access to healthcare. The real issue here is patient care, making sure all patients are able to see a primary care doctor when they need to see one and not have to use an emergency room as their only avenue for health care.

Q. Barbara In Turlock: I am curious, why it is a good thing to have more people insured under Medi-Cal? Where does that money come from?

A: It's important because we have people that are able to get care locally, and people that were not covered before. The question is, is that going to cost the federal government more or taxpayers more? There is a cost to that, and it is a cost we wanted to make sure got addressed through our bill, so if you're on Medi-Cal today or Medicaid across the country, you would be able to do that. Our goal is to put more people back to work. We want to make sure if you're able-bodied and able to go out and work, there are actually jobs for you to go out and take. We want people out of poverty. Medicaid is set for the neediest in our communities, and we want to make sure that we are rising people up out of poverty because they're able to get jobs. That's why we're pushing not only for tax reform but also an infrastructure package that will create water storage, which will help us out in the Valley, and also goods movement. We have a trade negotiation that is fair trade, will create competition and allow us to export more of our goods and help us to make more manufacturing jobs here in the area. We want to make sure we put Medicaid on a sustainable path and our bill does that. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that under the ACA, Medicaid was not sustainable and we have put a plan in place that will make it sustainable for the future and those that have been covered are continuing to be covered.