Congressman Tom O’Halleran and a few members of his staff visited Show Low and Lakeside recently and held a roundtable discussion with veterans from the White Mountains.
Over the past few months O’Halleran has hosted several meetings with veterans from all over the state.
The meetings have generally been used to hear various grievances from veterans about what they feel has been a lack of support from local and state governments, specifically limiting their access to proper health care through the Veterans Administration or receiving basic benefits.
The discussions were originally designed to inform the public about the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, which was signed by President Joe Biden on Aug. 10.
This bill was backed extensively by O’Halleran and expanded medical coverage for veterans to allow treatment for being exposed to burn pits or any other toxic chemical while serving.
As he made his way from town to town, O’Halleran mentioned that many attendees were bringing up problems that his staff hadn’t heard of before.
“It provided a great opportunity to listen and hear what else is going on that hasn’t been addressed and what we can do to help,” O’Halleran said when he was in Show Low on Sept. 2. “It’s good to be educated in situations like this.”
O’Halleran sat down with a reporter from the White Mountain Independent after the meeting had concluded and mentioned that the areas he has visited thus far had all been very responsive.
“I believe it’s important to provide a platform where people feel comfortable enough to speak openly and know that their grievances won’t fall on deaf ears,” O’Halleran said. “The attendance for our discussions has been great and I feel (my team and I) are being given an opportunity to help implement big changes for the men and women who served this country.”
Unfortunately, the attendance Sept. 2 for Show Low’s roundtable wasn’t as “great” as O’Halleran was probably hoping for. Only one woman made it to the meeting. She came to speak on behalf of a small group of veterans who have been living off-grid for years. While they all served in the military at one time or another, they haven’t been able to secure consistent access benefits and support.
O’Halleran didn’t waste the opportunity, and he and his Veteran and Military Services Manager Rudy Cota III sat and spoke with the woman for over an hour. They discussed unemployment, mental health and suicide rates, and homelessness among a wealth of issues facing Arizona veterans.
“There’s a lot to disagree on in modern politics,” said O’Halleran, “but our veterans shouldn’t be one of them. This country has spent years building agencies and departments whose sole purpose is to help our veterans, and I’m astounded that we haven’t been able to get it right. But change can start with something small, and it’s starting today by having these conversations.”
Despite the small attendance, O’Halleran seemed pleased with the meeting.
“At some point, we, as a community have to say ‘enough is enough.’ It’s time to start holding people accountable and ensure that our veterans get what they signed up for,” he said. “The VA can only do what they’re funded to do, and the contract that these men and women signed wasn’t with the VA, it was with the American government. Our government should be working to make sure that they fulfill their side of that contract. Our vets already fulfilled theirs.”
On Sept. 3, the congressman popped into the Lakeside movie theater and served popcorn to patrons.
Labor Day weekend is traditionally slow for movie theaters, and especially tough after the past couple of years trying to stay afloat during the pandemic. This year, the Cinema Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the National Association of Theater Owners, spearheaded a discount-ticket promotion in movie theaters across the country.
WME Village 8 in Lakeside was among theaters nationwide to offer $3 tickets on Sept. 3 for the promotion that attracted 8 million moviegoers.
NATO provided guidelines to participating theaters and suggested inviting local congressional representatives to attend on National Cinema Day. The social media manager at WME Village 8, Jesse Valencia, extended that invitation to O’Halleran, who accepted.
Valencia described O’Halleran as a “very personable, down-to-earth guy who showed great interest in the theater and praised the significance of a family-owned business.”
Teddy Croney, owner of the Lakeside and Show Low theaters, gave O’Halleran a tour of Village 8, including behind-the-scenes workings of how a movie is shown.
“He wanted to experience the various roles,” Croney said. “He took tickets; he served popcorn to customers.”
Croney was pleased that O’Halleran could see firsthand that the local theaters are a community hub for multi-generational families.
“Everybody shows up. Everybody knows everybody,” she said.
Jacob Hernandez covers general news with an emphasis on Show Low business, events, and government. For comments and questions, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gayle Tyler covers local events for the Independent.