Aug 17 2019

Greenville Reflector

North Carolina’s junior senator toured a Greenville manufacturer and several local agencies on Friday, discussing issues ranging from the mental health of veterans to the trade dispute with China and gun control.
 
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis spoke before a group of 100 employees at Hyster-Yale Group’s forklift manufacturing facility in Greenville in a town hall-styled meeting.
 
Company officials have spoken with Tillis and other congressional leaders about the ongoing trade dispute’s effect on the company and its industry, said David Furman, president of sales and marketing, Americas.
 
“It’s created an unintended consequence of steel and aluminum going up, even from countries without tariffs,” Furman said. “It’s making the product more expensive for our consumers and ultimately the American consumer.”
 
Tillis, who is finishing his first term in the U.S. Senate and running for a second term, said President Donald J. Trump is right to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices.
 
“I also note that we’ve got to put our foot on the accelerator and get trade agreements in place so we can actually grow the economy and continue the good work that is happening here, the job creation,” Tillis said.
 
One employee asked Tillis what he would do to pressure Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to bring a series of bills passed by the House to the Senate floor for a vote. The man, whose name wasn’t available, specifically asked about House Resolution 8, which would toughen background checks on gun purchasers, so individuals prohibited from owning weapons don’t get them.
 
Tillis said he didn’t need to pressure McConnell because the Senate leader has announced plans to bring the bill to a vote.
 
“We’ve got to do a better job to make sure people who have mental illness do not have guns,” he said, adding, “You don’t want to lay the groundwork for a mass taking of guns from law-abiding citizens.”
 
People also have to be encouraged to speak up, Tillis said, noting that in several instances people who knew perpetrators of mass shootings said the individuals showed previous signs of instability.
 
He added legislation was adopted last year mandating local, state and federal law enforcement officials share information that is not in the national background check database.
 
Another employee asked what is being done to make health care not only affordable, but more transparent and easier for consumers to understand.
 
“We want to make sure that companies that are providing job-based health care that employees are satisfied with can keep going,” Tillis said. Proponents of ending employer-provided health care in favor of a large government-run system are wrong, he said.
 
“I do believe that government has to provide an option for people in the middle ground who don’t have a job health care plan but don’t qualify for Medicaid, Medicare,” Tillis said. “But you do that by being very focused. You don’t try to create a big-government solution.”
 
Resolving the problems with rising health care costs can’t be accomplished by targeting one sector, such as drug costs, he said. Medical providers, specialists, insurance companies and drug companies all have to be brought to the table, he said.
 
Prior to the Hyster-Yale town hall, Tillis toured and meet with people from Aces for Autism, the Greenville VA Health Care Center and Eastern Carolina Vocational Center
 
At the VA center Tillis briefly spoke with several veterans who are part of a weekly chess club that was started to give veterans an opportunity to socialize. Jerry Skinner, who learned to play while serving in the military and helped launch the club, said in previous interviews chess is a good form of therapy for individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome or other mental health issues.
 
Tillis said he a member of his high school chess club.
 
Jon Forte, center administrator, said the Greenville center averages about 1,000 patient visits daily and serves 20,000 veterans out of the Greenville and Morehead City facilities.
 
“We’ve got a great story to tell in the VA,” Tillis said. “We are not perfect, but when you start taking a look at our health care system and compare to some of the top performers in the private sector, we do very well.”
 
Efforts to use telemedicine to deliver health care services are moving along, the senator said.
 
“It won’t be perfect but it’s another step in making sure we have the resources here within the walls of Veterans Administration or we can get the resources in the community so we can get prompt care for veterans who come here," he said.
 
North Carolina has the fastest growing veterans population in the nation, Tillis said. In the next five or six years, the state’s veteran population is expected to surpass California's.
 
“We are trying to make investments in facilities like this health care center … across the state to provide that service to a growing population,” he said.
 
However, a lot of work is needed to reach veterans who are not being served. Tillis said an average of 20 vets commit suicide daily and half have no connection to VA health services.
 
About 18 months ago ago Congress took steps to provide mental health coverage to anyone regardless of their discharge status, he said.
 
The community must work to reach those veterans so they can take advantage of the system’s mental health services, Tillis said.

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