Source: Globe Gazette

By Deb Nicklay

OSAGE | U. S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said her first bill in Congress is designed to provide quick access to mental health services for veterans whose lives might otherwise be lost to suicide.

The bill, called the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, would allow veterans to seek local, non-VA services if VA hospitals cannot provide them in a timely manner, said Ernst.

Ernst told the audience that the average wait time for a veteran to receive an initial appointment with the VA is 36 days. It is estimated that 22 veterans are lost to suicide each day.

“That should never happen,” said Ernst, who serves in the U.S. Iowa Army National Guard. Mitchell County was one of her stops on her 99-county tour. Ernst was elected last year to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of longtime senator, Democrat Tom Harkin.

There was plenty to digest in the 40-minute town hall meeting, with Ernst fielding questions about topics ranging from clean water and renewable fuels standard, to trade promotion authority and GMO labeling.

Ernst said she and fellow Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, are “pushing back hard” against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the U.S. proposed amendment, which is too heavy-handed in its “one size fits all” approach, she said. Local and state controls are more effective, she added, saying the amended rule is “an overreach.” The rule change would clarify which bodies of water EPA would have jurisdiction over.

She has been vocal in her push to have the EPA’s release of renewable fuels standards by June 1 – a deadline the EPA has missed in the past two years. She repeated her well-publicized request to have EPA head Gina McCarthy visit Iowa to see how strong standards impact Iowa’s ethanol and biodiesel operations.

When asked, she said she supports a national GMO labeling of products, “no matter what side of the issue you are on,” she said. A standard is needed, “so everyone understands what they are getting,” she added. She agreed with an audience members that there are too many tax loopholes, and said while it required more study, she would support campaign finance reform.

She also said she would also study retention of the Internal Revenue Service’s 1031 Tax Deferred Exchange Services, which allows exchanges of acreage without a payment of capital gains taxes.

She said she wasn’t sure if the a proposed trade promotion authority bill, which allows Congress to have the final say on president-negotiated trade deals, would come to a vote. However, she said she has a strong interest in the bill since one in five Iowa businesses are tied to trade.


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