Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., told Hinesville residents he opposes troop cuts at Fort Stewart at a town hall meeting Friday.
“I’m a Republican, but I’m an American first,” Isakson said in response to a question about possible troop cuts at Fort Stewart. “I’d like to get another brigade out there rather than lose one… It’s important that each of you communicate with your elected officials on matters important to you.”
The meeting was in Hinesville City Hall.
He was asked about the possibility of Fort Stewart losing as many as 16,000 soldiers. The senator said that number was possible for Stewart and other military installations, though no one seriously believes any post could lose that many servicemen. He alluded to military threats in Eastern Europe and the threat of Islamic extremists, who he said would take over Iraq and eventually Afghanistan if American forces pull out of those countries.
Isakson said the U.S. needs a military that is agile, but capable of meeting at least two military threats at the same time. He cited the success of keeping American troops deployed to Germany, Japan and South Korea as evidenceof how America’s military might has maintained peace in those countries.
He said being 69 years old has given him the advantage of experience. He recalled how President Jimmy Carter presided over historic reductions in America’s military then the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was taken over by Islamic militants who now rule that country and continue to threaten the region.
The senator began by telling the crowd that his idea of a town hall meeting is one where he doesn’t talk, except to answer questions. He said if no one had any questions, he would be happy to stand there and talk for 45 “boring” minutes.
“I’m here to listen to your questions and to talk about your country and my country,” he said. “Primarily, I’m here to focus on Veterans Affairs and the services, but I’m open to any question you have.”
Most questions were about the VA from veterans who said they have experienced delays in disability claims, medical treatment or other VA-related issue, including the G.I. Bill. One female veteran questioned “overall quality control” at the VA.
The first question asked what Congress was doing about the average 428 days the VA takes to respond to a claim.
Isakson said one of the features of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 was a goal to reduce the average wait to 125 days. He said Congress has now given the VA the money to buy and install software to do a better job in handling claims.
A Vietnam veteran told about his efforts to get a claim through the VA that has been pending 10 years. He admitted he was upset as he vented his frustration on the senator. He said he had talked with and appealed to several people, but no one had helped him.
Isakson asked if he had contacted his office. He had not. He and other veterans in the room were advised to talk with Isakson’s legislative aides Ryan Evans and Sheila Robinson. The senator said before he or his staff could inquire about a VA claim, the veteran had to sign a privacy release form authorizing his office access.
Other veterans continued to vent about slow or inconsistent treatment from the VA. The senator listened each time and then asked that veteran to see Evans after the meeting. He told them he might not be able to get the response they wanted, but assured them it would not be due to a lack of effort.
After the meeting, Isakson took questions from the media. He was asked about sequestration and military health care, but the issue he was quickest to respond to was dealing with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“The only way you deal with ISIS is to kill them,” he said. “The only way you kill them is to have a military capability of doing it. The drawdown in place right now is dangerous. I did not agree with it… We have sworn enemies with ISIS and Al Qaida… There is no greater threat to our homeland.”
Isakson said he was critical of the president when he said he didn’t have a strategy for dealing with ISIS, but that he was pleased the president had authorized air strikes against elements of the group.