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Johnson addresses Iran, veterans issues
Johnson, left, listens to Bob Pivonka-Johnson talk about veterans issues. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - The Iran nuclear agreement pending before Congress is "a terrible deal," Sen. Ron Johnson told constituents in Monroe Tuesday.

"Iran is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world," he said. "It's a terrible deal - for the (Middle East) region and for America."

Johnson's comments came at a town hall meeting at Monroe's City Hall that drew about 18 people. Johnson stopped in for about 50 minutes, as part of a quick tour of southern Wisconsin that included stops in Darlington and Beloit.

Johnson, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said the threat of terrorist attacks are very real.

"The threats are real," he said, when asked if Americans are safe.

"We need to defeat ISIS, and the sooner the better," he said.

While he touched on foreign affairs, many of the questions from the audience centered on issues closer to home. One topic was the treatment of veterans.

Bob Pivonka-Johnson of Monroe, a Desert Storm veteran, asked what can be done to provide more access to assistance for veterans. He said suicide among veterans is a large problem, and he wondered why there's no community-based peer-to-peer support for vets.

Johnson said the Vets Choice Act is "not perfect," but it's a start towards better health care for veterans. The program allows vets to get care from non-Veterans Administration doctors. He said the VA should continue to treat military-specific injuries, but other conditions can be treated through private care. While he voted against the original version of the act, he said that was because the House version of the bill put the price tag at $626 million, but the Senate version came in costing taxpayers $50 billion per year after the first two years.

Mike Furgal, former state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, asked Johnson why the federal government is not enforcing laws designed to encourage hiring vets and doing business with vets.

Johnson said "enforcement is a problem across bureaucracy." But he voiced his support of veterans numerous times.

"I was surprised when I was sworn in and starting finding out about unemployment in vets," he said.

"I always hire vets," in his private-sector business, he said. Those who have served in the military bring desirable work characteristics and a strong work ethic. "You're foolish not to hire vets."

The federal debt was another concern raised. It was also the "primary reason I ran" for Senate in 2010, Johnson said, when he beat long-time Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold.

He said lawmakers look at 10-year cycles, but his office came up with its own model to show that the national debt will soar to $103 trillion in 30 years. The national debt is currently estimated at about $18 trillion.

The good news, Johnson said, is America knows how to achieve economic growth. He said the free market ensures the lowest price for the highest quality product with the highest level of customer service.

One avenue to promote economic growth is to lessen federal regulatory burdens, he said. No one wants to cause pollution; "we're all environmentalists" and green energy jobs are "grossly expensive."