Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Merril Lundman of Havre, 63, is issuing a challenge to north-central Montana citizens, businesses, organizations and officials: support him in his effort to bring a Veterans Administration clinic to Havre. Lundman, who served in the U. S. Army from 1964 to 1967, has started putting out notebooks for people to sign in support of his effort, said Tuesday he wants to collect the notebooks and any letters or documents of support by Aug. 3 so he can move on to the next step. “There’s no use dragging this out forever,” Lundman said. Veterans in Montana can use their benefits to help pay for services provided at VA clinics and at the VA hospital in Fort Harrison near Helena. Lundman said the veterans in north-central Montana shouldn’t have to drive to Great Falls, the site of the nearest VA clinic, or even farther to use their benefits. Diana LaBuda, service officer for Montana Veterans Affairs, said she thinks locating a clinic in Havre would benefit veterans. “I think the clinic would be a wonderful idea. It would be very helpful to the veterans in the area,” she said. LaBuda helps veterans in the area primarily with receiving federal veterans benefits. Montana Veterans’ Affairs is a state agency, completely separate from the federal Veterans Affairs department. LaBuda said the state Veterans Affairs works with 1,712 veterans in Hill County, 660 in Blaine County and 173 in Liberty County. The three-county total is 2,445, which does not include veterans in other counties in the area, such as Chouteau and Phillips counties, who might find it convenient to come to a clinic in Havre. Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he is in support of bringing a VA clinic to Havre, and that he is willing to write a letter supporting Lundman’s effort. He has already been looking into the matter, he said. “I have written a couple of letters over the last few years,” Rice said. Once he has documented community support, Lundman said he plans to send the documentation along with his request to Gov. Brian Schweitzer; the Montana Veterans Affairs Division; U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana’s members of Congress; and to the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Lundman, who has put notebooks out to collect signatures in Havre at the VFW Club, the Senior Citizens Center and the Havre Daily News, said he would be traveling up and down the Hi-Line for the next few days putting out more notebooks from Turner to Chester. He said he plans to put the books in locations including the Senior Citizens Center and VFW Club in Harlem, the Senior Citizens Center and Blaine County Journal News-Opinion in Chinook, the VFW Club and Senior Citizens Center in Chester, and other locations like the Hi-Way Bar and Service station in Hingham. He said he will also contact local legislators and others including businessmen, the Havre mayor and Hill County Commission to seek letters or documents of support for his effort. Lundman said the reason he is pushing for this now is the establishment of two new VA clinics in the state Lewistown and Cut Bank are scheduled to house new clinics, while Havre is not. He said he plans to talk to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and local officials in Lewistown and Cut Bank to see what he needs to show to get approval for a Havre clinic. The savings provided by VA benefits is significant, Lundman said. He saves more than $13,000 a year on his prescriptions alone using VA benefits, he said, with his copayment on the cost of nearly $15,000 running about $1,200 to $1,500 a year. The distance to the VA clinic can be a real hindrance, Lundman said. He has to travel to Great Falls at least twice a year just to have his prescriptions renewed, and many veterans can’t drive themselves. While the Montana Disabled American Veterans and the Hill County Council on Aging received a van in 2003 to shuttle veterans to Fort Harrison and to Great Falls, Lundman said that can’t help everyone. For example, he said, many people can’t schedule their appointments on the days the shuttle runs. Lundman said having a clinic here also could keep a large amount of business from leaving town when people go to Great Falls to the VA clinic there, they often shop in Great Falls, he said. “I don’t think any go down there without a (shopping) list as long as your arm,” he said.