May 1, 2012 12:19 AM by Jim Hummel
State Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, is responding to criticism over comments he made during a debate earlier this month in the house chamber.
"Why do we want to attract veterans to Louisiana?" Ortego asked state Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans.
Lorusso was taking questions on a bill he authored, H.B. 435, which would offer in-state tuition rates for some out-of-state veterans.
The following exchange can be heard in a video clip that's surfaced on-line:
Rep. Ortego: "A lot of times, veterans come with a lot of issues, too and I know the federal government (tries to) deal with a lot of those issues, but do you think we're going to be able to deal with them too?"
Rep. Lorusso: "I don't know what you're referring to by 'issues' Representative Ortego."
Rep. Ortego: "Homeless rates and mental illness rates, especially when they're coming after the war."
The exchange struck a chord with some veterans in Acadiana.
"I just though it's pitiful that someone would say that about veterans," said Steve Boyher of Lafayette, who served two tours of duty in Iraq.
"I'd like him to go do an open apology to all veterans in Louisiana," said Boyher. "Just an open apology to say he was wrong."
When questioned about his comments Monday night, Ortego did not apologize, but admitted he could've had a better choice of words.
"Honestly, the first thing I think is that I could've been a lot clearer," he said. "My point was that we need to expand services for veterans, they're serving our country, they come back and too often we cut the vital services that they need the most, that being health care."
Rep. Ortego voted in favor of H.B. 435, which passed unanimously in the house and he was also a co-author of the bill.
But for at least one veteran, Ortego's words spoke louder than his actions, and without an apology Steve Boyher is not satisfied.
"[Veterans] have a lot to offer," said Boyher. "We work our butts off, we're very well disciplined, and a lot of us have very good leadership skills and we're good for the Louisiana economy."
Ortego tells KATC he will continue to try and clear the air with area veterans over his comments, and he's planning to put on a town hall meeting to address any concerns directly.