“Maybe I can get some sort of information to tell me about what’s going on or what I need to do,” Vietnam veteran Tim Glancy said about a claim he filed last February. “They don’t really contact you. I found out its something you have to stay on top of.”

“You shouldn’t have to stay on top of it and the VA system is in terrible disrepair and I apologize to you from the bottom of my heart that it’s that way,” Rice responded. “Government has broken down there, and one of the functions of an elected official is to intervene when government breaks down.”

While work is moving slowly in fixing the VA claims backlog that causes veterans to wait 18 months to two years to have a benefit claim filed, Rice said more needs to be done to insure better access for veterans.

“I don’t want to be to hard on them, the VA they are trying very hard to clear up backlog they’re putting in new systems but honestly federal government the behemoth that it is moves far to slow for everybody and we’re doing everything to grease the skids and work more quickly,” Rice said.

Rice fielded a question from Randy Sawyer of Marion who was concerned about the possible phasing out of Social Security and Medicare. Rice clarified the question to discuss the depletion of the Social Security Trust Fund, estimated to be depleted by 2033. He proposed several ways to ensure that money will be there for people paying into it now when they retire.

“One is that we can attack the cost side and that would be by either delaying retirement ages. I’m not saying anything that would affect anybody currently on social security or within nine years of retiring,” Rice said. “For younger people, just like Reagan did back in ‘80s, we’re going to have to do a gradual increase in the age of retirement for Social Security, bump up it two years over 25-year period. Another thing we can do is means test, if you earn over a certain level of income you have to pay taxes on Social Security that means you get less of a benefit if you’re wealthy.”

South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services director Anthony Keck was also on the line to provide specific Medicare or Medicaid related answers. Keck spoke about a new program that will launch next January that will make things easier for joint enrollees of Medicaid and Medicare.

“In January, we will be launching a new program called South Carolina Health Connections Prime which is a program targeted toward 150,000 dual eligible members and those are individuals eligible for Medicare and state program Medicaid,” Keck said. “And for first time that program will actually be managed together so beneficiaries will have a seamless experience between their physician’s office, their hospital, but other services such as long term care waivers that allow seniors to live in their homes and communities instead of having to go earlier than they’d like to a nursing home.”

The town hall teleconference had 4,277 listeners and Rice, along with his district manager Andrew Mims and Keck, addressed the questions of six people on the call, including the last question which came from Richard Ridgeley of Myrtle Beach who asked about the state’s right to work stance.

“Down here in South Carolina they have a law -- a right to work state -- and my question is why don’t they get rid of that because you could be working for someone for 10 years and go buy a new car and go into work Monday and they tell you they don’t need you anymore,” Ridgeley said. “For no reason whatsoever.”

A change of pace from medical issues and VA claims, Rice took a moment to get into his jobs speech and said without a heavy union presence in South Carolina, the state is more competitive for jobs.

“I am actually in favor of South Carolina being a right to work state,” Rice said. “South Carolina is now one of the top states in country to do business; my entire focus since I’ve been in congress has been on American competitiveness.”

“That’s fine and dandy,” Ridgeley said. “My point is if you’re a working person down here with X amount in debt working five, 10 years and they say they don’t need you that is not right, that is not right.”

“If we’re going to provide the same level of opportunity that we’ve had to our children and grandchildren we have to apply that attitude of competitiveness to this country,” Rice said getting into his groove. “I think you’re going to continue to see the states that are right to work thrive and continue to see jobs fleeing those other states.”

BY GAVIN JACKSON Morning Newsgjackson@florencenews.com