Link Veteran gets one-on-one chat with Franken By Lawrence Schumacher There’s an old saying in politics that elections are won or lost one vote at a time. On Friday, DFL-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken demonstrated how true that saying can be, when a roundtable on veterans issues at Brigitte’s Cafe his campaign scheduled drew only one participant. Josh John, a St. Cloud resident who said he served in the Navy from 2000-04, had Franken to himself for an hour as he described difficulties he faced returning from his tour of duty and the help he received from his Veterans Services Office and the St. Cloud VA Medical Center. “When I first asked for help at the VA, I got kind of a bad attitude from one person, so I ended up leaving and not registering,” he said. “A year later, the stress was getting to me. I started secluding myself from my family, not wanting to do anything,” he said. “My mom and my aunt eventually got me to talk with my county VSO. He got me registered with the VA and since then, I haven’t had a problem. I’ve gotten a lot of help, and every question I’ve gotten answered,” John said. Franken, battling to unseat U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., in this fall’s election, discussed his proposal to expand veterans benefits, what he called a lack of leadership from Coleman, and recent gains on veterans issues he said had only been made because of a Democratic-controlled Congress. “Everyone’s running around saying Congress never gets anything done,” he said. “But despite 90 filibuster threats by Senate Republicans, it took Democrats to get the new GI Bill passed and to finally fully fund VA health care.” After leaving Brigitte’s, Franken was scheduled to campaign at the Benton County Fair in Sauk Rapids. Franken’s plan Franken said he hopes to serve on the same Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, if elected, on which the late Sen. Paul Wellstone served. “Paul was always someone concerned about vets, especially homeless vets — the men and women who fell through the cracks,” he said. “I want to continue that.” Franken said he would work to guarantee every veteran health care for life by making full VA health care funding an untouchable entitlement in the budget, increasing funding for mental health treatment for veterans, and increasing pay and benefits for military personnel and families. He said he did not know how much the program would cost, or how he would pay for it. Franken also attacked Coleman, saying he had twice voted for budgets that cut VA funding, three times against making full VA health care funding a requirement, and 18 times against Democratic amendments to increase funding for veterans. “It’s only since 2006 that Coleman’s voted for veterans,” he said. “Before that, he voted time and time again with the Bush administration and against veterans.” Coleman response Coleman has voted more than 30 times to increase federal funding for veterans, which has gone up more than 70 percent during his term, said Luke Friedrich, Coleman’s campaign spokesman. “Norm has been a champion for veterans throughout his time in office and Al Franken’s dishonest, negative attacks cannot change that fact,” he said in a statement. The first bill Coleman got passed in Congress required the Pentagon to pay troops’ travel expenses when they return home for rest and relaxation, Friedrich said. Coleman supported the GI Bill expansion, secured federal reintegration funds for Minnesota Army National Guard troops returning from overseas and got a bill passed in 2006 requiring the VA to reach out to veterans informing them of benefits for which they are eligible, among other accomplishments, he said.