State Rep. Dykema Focused on Budget, Veterans Healthcare
After 42-percentage-point election win, Holliston Democrat faces significant challenges in second term.
Carolyn Dykema's 42-percentage point victory over Independent Jon Loya in the recent race for the 8th Middlesex District state representative seat could, in political terms, be considered a walk in the park.
Dykema knows her upcoming term will be anything but.
After her 11,910-4,805 victory over the 20-year-old Loya, a junior political science major at UMass-Lowell, the Holliston Democrat has her work cut out for her in her second term.
Dykema, 42, campaigned on driving development and creating jobs, a formidable challenge in a down economy. Dykema is also intent on streamlining state government, reforming pensions, reducing healthcare costs and improving local veterans' access to federal benefits.
None of these goals will come easy, especially in the face of a massive state budget gap.
"One of the big goals that we have is to address the $2 billion budget gap that we're facing at the state level and be able to provide services like veterans services that Massachusetts is at the top of providing," said Dykema. "But how are we going to maintain those services in light of the fact that we have significantly decreased revenues."
Making this only slightly easier is the rejection of Question 3, which would have cut the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, likely worsening the already tenuous budget situation.
"I was thrilled that Question 3 didn't pass on the ballot because that would have really been devastating to some of the state services but we still have some challenges in using our resources more wisely," said Dykema. "We have to tackle some tough issues like pensions and healthcare to make sure that the services that we really need to provide, especially to deserving veterans, get provided. Budgets are by far an overwhelming priority and doing that in a way that leaves us with a solid foundation for the future."
Dykema's latest venture is improving local veterans' access to federal benefits, having been appointed to the Subcommittee Subcommittee on Veterans Access to Healthcare in late July.
Accompanied by fellow state Reps. Jim Vallee, D-Franklin, and Paul Frost, R-Auburn, Dykema hosted a hearing at Holliston Town Hall last Wednesday, the fourth of five such meetings. The hearings were a chance for veterans to voice their complaints about the Veterans Administration system and suggest ways in which improvements could be made at the state level.
"The general visibility of veterans issues is something that was part of my intent of having the event out here," said Dykema, whose father and sister-in-law served in the Armed Forces.
"We want to start making the community more aware of the issues relating to veterans because the communities really need to come together around the veterans, especially these veterans who are coming just home from the war. The war isn't front and center for the general public and it should be because when you look at the sacrifices these young veterans and their families have made for their communities, we should rally around them and make sure they have the support services they need when they come home. And this is one piece of that bigger picture."
According to Dykema, the panel has heard similar concerns in each of the first four meetings. At last Wednesday's hearing, veterans complained about red tape, deserving veterans being denied benefits, inadequate transportation and limited partnership between the federal VA government and local hospitals. Though many praised the quality of care once in the VA system, accessing the federal benefits in the first place has been exceedingly difficult for many vets.
"That was something I hadn't heard before about the interface between the veterans and the VA system," said Dykema. "It sounds like once you're in the system, it's a great system but the whole discussion about getting rated for care and service and the bureaucracy associated with that was a theme we hadn't heard before. That's a federal concern, not something we deal with at the state level, but it's something I appreciate because of the constituent calls we get from veterans coping these challenges. We try to help and facilitate the solutions as best we can, but that's the type of issue I'd see us raising and forwarding on to the federal delegation."
Though veterans benefits has always been something of a concern for Dykema, the surprising number of former soldiers in her constituency (Holliston; Hopkinton; Medway, precinct 1, Southborough, pcts. 2 & 3; and Westborough, pct. 2) has forced the issue to the forefront.
"I didn't expect veterans to be such an important issue for me," said Dykema. "It's obviously something I was concerned about but there are so many more veterans in our communities than I ever dreamed of that have been exposed to being in this role and getting the calls in from veterans who have been looking for support. And hel navigating benefits through our ofie have made me realize it's not just an interest of mnine but it's truly a need within my district and something I should be paying more attention to."