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Expand Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, Charlie Crist says

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Former Gov. Charlie Crist spent part of Tuesday morning visiting a housing development in the unincorporated Lealman area that was designed mostly for veterans and disabled veterans.

Charlie Crist Duval ParkCrist went to Duval Park to see for himself one solution to some of the obstacles veterans face when trying to return to private life. Those obstacles were at the forefront of a roundtable discussion he held Friday with a group of veterans.

What he found was a place one vet likened to “heaven.” But he found that, even in an earthly heaven, there are lot of needs — from funding shortfalls that leave veterans relying on food stamps, long waits to get disability payments from Veterans Affairs, and Medicare and Medicaid plans that don’t cover basic health needs, like dental care.

Additional funding for the VA, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security would help, he said.

“There’s a lot to be done,” Crist said. “It’s hard for me to understand why a member of Congress would not vote for increased allocations for veterans.”

Unfortunately, he said, political game playing is blocking the expansion of programs like Medicare and Medicaid that could help veterans and their families.

“It’s cruel, frankly,” Crist said. “But we will overcome it by being persistent.”

Charlie Crist Duval ParkCrist, a Democrat, is running for Congressional District 13 seat held by David Jolly. Jolly is facing a challenge in the Aug. 30 Republican primary from retired Gen. Mark Bircher. Crist will run against the winner in the Nov. 8 general election.

Duval Park was conceived about eight years ago as a housing complex in the largely poor Lealman area. It was the first venture into residential construction by the Sembler company. But after four houses were built, the project ground to a halt. Those homes stood vacant for years.

Last year, Blue Sky Communities bought the 10-acre site and re-envisioned it as an 88-unit housing site mostly for veterans and disabled veterans. The project has one-, two- and three-bedroom units that are leased to the veterans at substantially reduced rates. There is also a clubhouse, a pool with wheelchair access, and access to the next-door 38-acre Joe’s Creek Greenway Park.

It was backed in part by money and other support from the Pinellas County Housing Authority. Case management support is provided by the Boley Center and ServiceSource of Clearwater.

It began taking applications in October and people started moving in at the beginning of the year.

Paul Mabry, 58, said Duval Park has been a blessing. Mabry, am Army veteran, was injured while training on a mortar range. He’s missing a piece of his calf, and still has shrapnel in his foot and hip. The VA says he has a 10 percent disability. He was homeless for a short time before he found out about Duval Park from St. Vincent de Paul.

“What a blessing,” Mabry said. “There’s not an adjective in the English language that would do it justice.”

Mabry has been struggling since 1981 to have the VA rank his disability as more severe than 10 percent.

Craig Matthew McArthur, also 58, is a Navy veteran who was homeless for two-and-a-half to three years before finding out about Duval Park from St. Vincent de Paul. He had a heart attack while living on the streets. His heart condition is classified as chronic. He got a MRSA infection in his leg from the operation when they removed a vein to transplant to his heart.

Charlie Crist Duval Park“This is wonderful … heaven,” McArthur said. McArthur said he was never told until recently that he might have VA benefits.

The difficulties faced by Mabry, McArthur and others at Duval Park are why Crist said that, if elected, he would hire a veteran to be available to help usher other veterans through the process, to answer questions and to aid in getting them the help they need.

As for Duval Park, Crist said, “it’s beautiful.”

The problem, he said, is that there is not enough of it. It has a waiting list of 240 veterans who would like to live there.

“We need to expand the ability for more people to have this kind of opportunity,” Crist said.

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