Some LA vets concerned over proposed state budget cuts

Some LA vets concerned over proposed state budget cuts

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - American flags line the road into the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell even as some veterans in the state express concern this Memorial Day weekend over potential state budget cuts.

"When it impacts on the living veterans and even our fallen veterans represented by all those headstones you can see from here then it just saddens us a little bit," said Lt. Col. Ken Kimberly, (Ret.), who served during the Vietnam War and Desert Storm and is currently a member of the St. Tammany Parish President's Veterans and Military Affairs Advisory Council.

The state operating budget that the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives approved in lieu of the governor's spending plan slashes $150,000 from the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

"It's going to impact a lot of people not just cemeteries they're thinking about shutting down…it's also going to affect all the veterans service offices, 64 of them, one in each parish, they may have to have layoffs and cutbacks and the employees going to two and three different parishes to fulfill that," said Lt. Col. Kimberly.

The head of the La. Department of Veterans Affairs said he already runs a tight fiscal ship.

"The money that we get in state general funds to begin with is not that much. It's right at $5 million. We are a $60 million department, but most of our money comes from federal funding," said Col. Joey Strickland, (Ret.), Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

And he said the cut could result in the closure of some state military cemeteries and ultimately cost the state millions.

"I could very well have to shut down two of the newest state Veterans cemeteries in Rayville and at Fort Polk in Leesville," said Strickland.

Closures that would necessitate the state paying the federal government millions.

"The state agreed to perpetual care and to running these cemeteries, these cemeteries are fully funded by the federal VA, if we renege on perpetual care and we put any of our cemeteries in caretaker mode then we owe as much as $10 million back to the federal VA," said Strickland.

"Ten million apiece to repay back to federal government those are the terms and the stipulations of the federal side, Veterans Affairs," added Kimberly.

But not all local veterans see it that way.

"We feel that threat is posturing by the administration. In a $60 million plus budget they can absorb a cut of $150,000 easily," said retired Navy Cmdr. John Wells, who serves as Executive Director of Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc. of Slidell.

Still, those who do see it as a problem like Lt. Col. Kimberly said pressure is being brought to state lawmakers.

"There's going to be a lot of people visiting and people telephoning up there, emailing them," said Kimberly.

The idea of forcing families of deceased veterans to look to other military cemeteries long distances away is seen as very problematic.

"The Slidell cemetery is used so heavily by the North Shore and New Orleans that it would fill up very, very rapidly, so that would be an issue," said Strickland.

In terms of the proposed federal budget, Strickland said he has mixed feelings about what President Donald Trump has proposed for the VA.

"I am happy that he's putting more money into the Choice Card Program to give our veterans greater opportunity to seek medical care outside of the VA system, that's good," stated Strickland.

But he is worried about the future of the Individual Unemployability Program which benefits disabled veterans.

"He robbed Peter to pay Paul," he said.

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