Veterans traveling long distances for care after state budget cuts

      {}Budget cuts are causing a new health care crisis for Alabama veterans. Right now, they have long journeys to reach their veteran's representatives. Those representatives help them sign up for care and benefits. {}We have 420,000 veterans in the state of Alabama. Two years ago, budget cuts from the state forced the Department of Veterans Affairs to cut {}representatives from 16 counties who handle benefits and medical needs. Those 16 counties are rural ones forcing veterans there to drive long distances for care."I spent 34 years 4 months and 24 days and I retired active duty," Sgt. Scotty Cole, Winston County Army veteran said.An Army and National Guard veteran, Sgt. Scotty Cole, retired to Winston County. {}"This shoulder was broke three times, but I love this country, I would go back today because I love the United States of America," Sgt. Cole said.The Department of Veterans Affairs tells us, it was forced to cut out representatives and close offices for 16 Alabama counties after state budget cuts. It's had a hiring freeze since 2008. Those cuts are impacting veterans like Sgt. Cole - in rural counties. {}"I can't think of a bigger disappointment that a government can do than not take care of the people who went to war and fought for us," J.D. Snoddy, Winston County Clerk said."For all the veterans we have in this county, it's just not right," Cole said.Veterans in Winston County say they have to drive 40-50 miles away to sign up for their medical benefits.{}"We really feel let down," Sgt. Cole said."By not having one here local you postpone the time that these people get treatment for their injuries or diseases," Snoddy said.In fact, a unit from Winston County is deployed now, and when it returns, soldiers will travel the same long path to Cullman or Jasper for services. We spoke to a Haleyville veteran by phone who says vets and even widows often don't have transportation to neighboring counties - and can't sign up for services."This is appalling," Snoddy said. "We have the opportunity to take care of the people who gave us our country," Snoddy said."Let's give the veterans what they deserve. Lets have medical needs for them," Sgt. Cole said.The Department of Veterans Affairs says it is aware of the concerns. It's representative said they're doing everything they can to meet veterans' needs, but bringing back an office in every county depends on funding at the state level. {}