PORTSMOUTH — U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, during a visit to American Legion Frank E. Booma Post 6 on Tuesday, was vocal in her opposition to proposed cuts to the Department of Defense budget that would affect current military personnel and veterans.
Shea-Porter joined a panel of representatives from various veterans organizations in the state to talk about services and benefits available to members of the military, their families and veterans, and to answer questions from the 40 or so people gathered, many of them veterans.
Shea-Porter said the announcement of the proposed cuts by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel took her breath away, adding that she does not agree with them. She called them a direct result of sequestration, which was approved while she was not serving in the House and which she said she would have opposed.
She said the nation does have enemies around the world, and needs to maintain a strong posture.
"I don't think it is in our best interest to reduce the size of our troops so dramatically," Shea-Porter said.
She said military men and women want to be peacekeepers, and she believes strength is part of that. She said she also believes the nation does not necessarily know where the next problem will be.
"I am going to err on the side of strength. It's a caution I believe is warranted," Shea-Porter said.
She said the government has an unwritten contract with members of the military that they will be supported and compensated for their service to their nation and the sacrifices they and their families make.
She said she will work to prevent any cuts that affect personnel and veterans.
In regards to services, Shea-Porter said New Hampshire does an excellent job taking care of the men and women who have served, and it is the responsibility of her and others to get the word out about the services and benefits that are available to help families when someone is deployed, to help veterans reintegrate and find jobs when they return from service, and to help veterans access health and other government benefits they are entitled to.
Representatives on the panel included Will Gagne of the Manchester Veterans Administration Medical Center; Pamela Tebo-Piccione of the Manchester VA regional office; Dave Quinn of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve; Chrystin Fisher with Easter Seals, which provides services for veterans and families of those deployed; and Laura Lakin of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, which assists post-9/11 veterans primarily with "invisible" wounds of war including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Post commander George McCall is a veteran of World War II. He said veterans from that war and the previous world war returned from service and did not look back. Services were available, but not often sought out or discussed.
He said over the years they have learned they need to do a better job of getting the word out about services that are available, which is part of his role as a district service officer with the American Legion, to help veterans find benefits and navigate the system.
Shea-Porter said there are still members of the military leaving service each day and more who will be if the DoD budget plan is approved requiring a continuous dialogue of the services available.
"There are still some who haven't been reached yet," Shea-Porter said.
As Shea-Porter prepares for another election cycle this year, she said she does not have the time right now to get out and campaign.
"I have a lot of real work to do," she said.
Shea-Porter has been a longtime advocate for veterans and members of the military, co-sponsoring dozens of pieces of legislation in support of the military and veterans but said it would be up to them to decide in November if they will vote for her again.