U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-South Dakota, was asked tough questions about federal government spending, gun control and veterans' care by several college students attending a town hall meeting Noem hosted Friday at the University Center in Rapid City.
Of the approximately 50 people in attendance, 11 were students in an American government class from Black Hills State University.
BHSU freshman and U.S. Navy veteran Michael Petersen noted the Department of Defense makes up about a third of the federal budget and asked Noem if she thinks reducing the size of the military is necessary to reduce the deficit.
Noem said she worried that any significant cuts could inhibit the military's ability to keep Americans safe. She did admit, however, that there is possibly some waste in the largest U.S. government agency.
"I'm not going to stand up in front of people and say that there isn't some waste within the Pentagon or within some of our military forces," said Noem. But the sequestration cuts set to take place March 1 would be "devastating" to national security, she said. "We live in a dangerous world."
Veterans care was another major issue discussed.
Noem suggested that the Veterans Administration hospital in Hot Springs would be the perfect place to house a facility specifically dedicated to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder care.
"The opportunity we have in that community to have a facility that specializes in treatment of PTSD would be wonderful," said Noem. "It's such a peaceful community that just wraps their arms around our soldiers and welcomes them home and takes care of them."
Noem, who serves on the military affairs committee, said the personnel subcommittee would take up issues on PTSD and the way veterans' care is handled to try to make reforms.
She said suicides and PTSD are becoming a "big topic of conversation because we are seeing our numbers grow."
The Pentagon recently reported that suicides outpaced the number of combat deaths in 2012. "We're seeing multiple deployments that are harder on our men and women that are serving," said Noem.
Student John Hill, an Air Force veteran, stood to ask Noem if she would support any reform to keep assault weapons and "any weapons meant specifically for war" off the streets.
Noem told Hill that said she doesn't think there needs to be any more laws and the ones on the books should be enforced. "We need to make sure that we have guns and weapons legally in the hands of people," said Noem.
Hill, who said he wasn't completely satisfied with her answer, went to speak to Noem after the meeting.
Petersen said he asked his question about defense spending because on his recent deployment, he couldn't understand where all the money was going because half the time he and his fellow sailors were without basic necessities like food. "So where is it all going?" he said. Hill said he thinks the problem lies with defense contractors.
Adjunct BHSU professor Robert Haivala said he was proud of his American government students and the informed questions they asked of their representative.
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