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December 17, 2017

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Constituent Services:

What your rep can do for you: Bridging that 2,500-mile gap

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AP Photo/John Locher

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., shown at a town hall meeting Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Las Vegas, has opened more than 670 cases to help constituents this year, with 40 percent dealing with immigration.

A U.S. Army veteran is getting ready to move into her new apartment next month after a brush with homelessness led her to a senator’s office for help.

Las Vegas resident Trienda Ledo-Lighten, who served a little more than a year in the Army in the ’80s, has been living in temporary housing for the last few months. She says she is now picking out furniture and going back to school to finish the last six classes she needs for her bachelor’s degree.

“I stay in the heart of the homeless area,” she said. “I didn’t realize how many people were hurting out here, older people and young people. It’s really eye-opening, so I feel humbled.”

Senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., have the ability to help constituents with a variety of issues, from requesting flags to navigating federal agencies. Ledo-Lighten says that when her housing situation was dire, she didn’t go to a member of Congress — she went to her professor.

“I wonder how many veterans are out there and if they know how to get help for themselves or even if they want help,” she said.

She says the professor referred her to a contact connected to former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who sent Ledo-Lighten to the office of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.

Cortez Masto’s office sent an inquiry to the VA Medical Center. Homeless Outreach Team staff and local organizations worked together to obtain emergency housing. The office also asked to expedite Ledo-Lighten’s disability claim.

“I encourage every Nevadan — whether you voted for me or not — to reach out to my offices if ever I can be of service,” Cortez Masto says.

The six members of Nevada’s congressional delegation can become involved in emotional situations, such as when Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., helped a family bring a relative’s body back from overseas.

“I do get involved from time to time on different things,” Rosen says. “I met with the family, met with the parents, followed up to be sure that the body got here fine. I talked to them a few times. As a parent myself, it’s the most horrible thing you can imagine.”

Representatives and senators can help constituents with:

Federal agencies (Department of Labor, IRS, Department of Education)

Medicare

Social Security

Veterans Affairs

Immigration

Passports

Housing

Health care

Post office

Academy nominations

Grants assistance

Visiting D.C.

Flag requests

Rosen says her office has helped people with erroneous foreclosures on their records and residents whose identities have been stolen.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit of paperwork that gets lost in the big shuffle and we help them,” she says.

When U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., was elected in 2011, there were more cases related to the housing crisis than they assist with now, according to his office. Summer has brought an uptick in passport assistance as people travel abroad, while issues such as veterans affairs, Social Security and health care remain steady.

Amodei’s office has helped get a replacement Medal of Honor issued for the closest living relative of a soldier who served in a Dakota Territory battle in 1876.

“A federal government that is centered 2,500 miles away can be a pretty distant, cold and unresponsive entity,” Amodei said. “This is why the 2nd Congressional District constituent services efforts are centered around the following values: closeness, warmness and responsiveness.”

In an immigration case, Amodei helped a dad who approached him in a Carson City store. The man’s son was in the Army and had orders to return to the U.S. but needed help getting a visa for his fiancee. The case reached U.S. Embassy officials in Manila, Philippines, and was resolved within days.

Cortez Masto’s office has opened more than 670 cases this year, with 40 percent dealing with immigration. More than half of the immigration cases in the office of Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., are people applying for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, according to Kihuen’s office.

His office has closed almost 30 cases that have resulted in a DACA card, residency, work permit or naturalized citizenship.

Kihuen said recently in a statement that his office has helped residents secure more than $400,000 from federal agencies since January.

“Every day, constituents contact our office requesting assistance with a variety of federal agencies,” Kihuen said.

The office of Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., helped bring $1.6 million in savings or retroactive pay in 2016 from a variety of federal agencies for almost 1,000 constituents.

"My office is the customer service division of the federal government,” Titus said. “Whether it's Social Security, immigration issues, or veteran problems, we are here to help. My husband even helped a constituent get her cat down from a tree."

Megan Taylor, a spokeswoman for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., says his Nevada offices focus on casework and outreach.

“Sen. Heller's state office is made up of regional representatives who handle certain issue areas,” Taylor said. “Everything from Medicare and Social Security, to veterans, immigration, post office, military and passports.”

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