Freshman Senator Joni Ernst met with a group of Simpson College students on Monday to discuss updates on the United States Senate and answer any questions the students had.
The group of about 20 students met in the Matthew Simpson room in College Hall.
Ernst began by addressing the budget resolution passed by the House and Senate last week.
“I’m excited about that because this is the first time in I think seven years we’ve actually had a budget in the United States of America. We should not be operating without a budget,” the Senator said of the accomplishment.
Ernst also discussed the first bill she introduced on the Senate floor. The bill focuses on veterans’ access to mental health resources.
“Right now, most veterans will seek mental health assistance through the Veteran’s Administration, the VA. And the wait list for veterans to see a mental health provider, it normally takes about 36 days before they can have their initial appointment,” Ernst said.
The bill, called the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Act, allows Veterans who need access to mental health resources to get them immediately through a non-VA provider.
Ernst said when a veteran comes forward and asks for help, it’s because they’re at their wit’s end.
“For them to take that initial step to get assistance, it’s a pretty tough one. We want to make sure that if they reach out, they need assistance; they need to seek a provider or see a provider, that they get it right away. And 36 days is too long,” Ernst said.
Junior Molly Monk asked what the senator’s next step would be regarding the VA.
Ernst said there are many pieces of legislation that address the VA beyond mental health she would like to see pushed as well, such as basic care.
The long waiting lists at the VA don’t allow veterans to get basic care in a timely manner, as a lot of them go through the VA for everything, even simple blood draws.
“Maybe, if it’s something that requires more time and intensive treatment, they should go to the VA, but if it’s something like a simple blood draw, why can’t they go to a local clinic and have a blood draw done?” Ernst said.
Ernst also said she hopes to expand into veterans’ substance abuse issues.
“It’s veterans from all eras who have struggled with substance abuse. And again, these are individuals who have been taught to be very strong, and it’s hard to step forward and say, ‘I have an addiction problem and I need to get help,’” Ernst said.
Ernst said 22 veterans die each day from suicide.
“These are men and women that have given a lot for our country and I think we need to make sure we step up and take care of them,” Ernst said.
The Simpsonian was able to ask Ernst if she had a response to Bruce Braley’s four-point college affordability plan he championed when campaigning.
Ernst said she has different views than Braley on college affordability, but she does believe the cost for college needs to be reasonable.
She said high school students need to have plans in place before they enter college.
“Understanding that maybe if they’re choosing this degree field, knowing better, how many opportunities exist in that career field, what the pay will be in that career field, and understanding ‘can I manage this debt with what it’s going to cost through my chosen school?’” Ernst said.
Ernst also said she is a big proponent of Pell Grants, contrary to what some critics say.
“But on the back end, there are Pell Grants and other ways for paying for school, as well, which I think are important. And it’s one thing that I think a lot of people think that I just want to do away with Pell Grants. I never said that. I had a Pell Grant so they are there,” Ernst said.
Ernst said the most important part is making sure we have a thriving economy so students can get jobs after college to pay off their loans.
Ernst said she would be in the state of Iowa in the next two weeks, “meeting with different groups, visiting different manufacturing facilities, different farm operating groups, veterans facilities, schools, just trying to hear the pulse of Iowa and what’s going on” before returning to Washington, D.C.