U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren talked trade, veterans’ issues and taxes during a town hall with constituents Monday afternoon at the Kendall County Courthouse in Yorkville.
Hultgren, R-Plano, spoke with the group of residents from areas that included Yorkville, Oswego, Aurora, Sugar Grove, Plainfield, North Aurora, Batavia, Warrenville, McHenry, Sleepy Hollow and Orland Park.
Also attending the meeting were Chad Lockman, superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Kendall County; Olivia Laschober, assistant superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Kendall County; and Michael Iwanicki, superintendent of the McHenry County Veterans Assistance Commission.
During the meeting, some in the audience pressed Hultgren on trade and whether he supports the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, agreement. He also was asked if the agreement would be addressed or voted on during Congress’s “lame duck” session after the Nov. 8 election and the swearing-in of a new Congress in January.
Hultgren said he doesn’t foresee the issue being addressed or voted on, or being passed, during the lame duck session, giving it a single-digit percentage chance.
For his part, Hultgren said he opposes the TPP as it is written currently, but said he isn’t opposed to trade agreements and could change his mind if certain elements of the agreement are changed.
“Where it is right now, if it came up for a vote tomorrow or when we come back in November, I wouldn’t support it; I couldn’t support it,” he said. “The big reasons for me are I just don’t think it’s strong enough for us. I think it’s giving up too much of our autonomy to foreign jurisdiction, foreign court authority that I think is risky, and I just think we can do better. The reason I say ‘in its current form’ is, I still am supportive of trade. I am not an isolationist. I do not think we should just close our borders down.”
John Laesch of Aurora, who has been active in opposing the TPP, thanked Hultgren for his open forum and for his stance on the issue.
“I’m thrilled about what you’re saying about the TPP,” Laesch said. “I genuinely appreciate your open forum and the way that your staff has treated us. I think having these discussions is more than most members of Congress are doing, Democrat or Republican, and I think that helps.”
Hultgren also discussed veterans’ issues, including ongoing problems with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He offered to let his office or the Veterans Assistance Commission know if a veteran is having problems.
“These people are here to help, they’re here to cut through the red tape,” he said. “They’re here to get things done. And we want to do the same thing. That’s our first, primary focus.”
Laschober said veterans’ disability claims have been moving faster through the VA system recently, but there are more claims than just disability claims, including pension claims and burial claims, and there are only three places in the U.S. that process those claims.
Laschober said Congress also should focus on hiring more staff “to have an efficiently running Department of Veterans Affairs to do said claims.”
A resident at the meeting said he had read that illegal immigrants get better health care than veterans. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has made such claims during his campaign, most recently during a Sept. 7 speech in Philadelphia.
“Our veterans, in many cases, are being treated worse than illegal immigrants,” he said, according to national media reports.
Hultgren said such a claim isn’t true.
“I don’t think that’s true,” he said. “That illegal immigrants are getting better care than our veterans, I don’t think that’s true. I don’t know where that came from.”
Hultgren said there have been some reforms, but there is “more that needs to happen.” He praised the VA for the experience he has had with his own father.
“My dad’s a veteran, and so grateful for the VA,” he said. “Hines has been really good to him and also [James] Lovell [Federal Health Care Center] in North Chicago has been really great. And to me, that’s one of those that really is a model: a joint VA and DOD facility relationship with Lovell. But almost everything we’ve heard has been very positive. The quality of care is unbelievable. All the resources for our veterans are right there.”