N.C. lawmakers join forces to find money for veterans

Rep. Alma Adams, (D-NC), introduces legislation with Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., to help veterans.
Rep. Alma Adams, (D-NC), introduces legislation with Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., to help veterans. McClatchy

Charlotte, N.C., members of Congress Alma Adams and Robert Pittenger have teamed up in an effort to help veterans.

The pair plan to introduce legislation Wednesday to get additional federal funding for a Mecklenburg County program that works to help members of the military transition to civilian life.

The county approached the two about expanding the program, based on a model developed by Syracuse University, that currently connects 29 local agencies and non-profit groups in the Charlotte region in a network connecting veterans to the myriad of available social, health and wellness services.

Adams, a Democrat, and Pittenger, a Republican, seek to use existing Veterans Affairs funding for a grant to develop the regional technology network. The bill would direct the Veterans Benefits Administration to use existing money to develop such a grant, though Adams and Pittenger didn’t specify how much money would be needed.

“It’s kind of piecemeal now,” Adams said in an interview. “They go to one place and then to another place. You know how you go to one place and people say ‘let me refer you to another.’”

There are nearly 800,000 veterans in North Carolina, including 37,000 veterans in Adam’s 12th Congressional District and more than 41,000 veterans in Pittenger’s 9th Congressional District.

It’s unclear what chances the legislation has of passing. The legislation currently has two additional sponsor, Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., who represents the Syracuse area.

The Veterans Benefits Administration has $79 billion in available funds to provide benefit assistance for veterans and their families, said Jamie Bowers, Pittenger’s spokesman. The legislation, he said, would allow communities like Mecklenburg County or Syracuse to apply for a specific grant to help pay for the support system. The grant program would not be an earmark, he said.

The community would determine the amount of its specific request, Bowers said. And it would be up to Veterans Affairs to decide whether to approve the grant and which discretionary funds to use, he said.

“You have various programs that are scattered out and the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” Pittenger said in an interview. “We want to make sure that we have this front and center and veterans know the enormous systems that are there on their behalf.”

Adams and Pittenger have worked together in the past. They joined together to lobby Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Charlotte’s former mayor, for additional federal money to build a new control tower at Charlotte Douglas International airport.

They also joined together in a friendly wager with Seattle-area lawmakers for one this year’s National Football League playoff games. They lost the bet and had to provide their colleagues Bojangles chicken and North Carolina barbecue.