Veterans’ Issues Under “Friendly Fire:”
By Karen St. John
If radio and You Tube ads are any indication, veterans will be hearing a great deal more of Senator John McCain’s supposed support of their issues. It will not be stated in facts, but in hostile innuendos, obvious digs and vague claims against his political opponent, Senator Barack Obama. And if there’s one thing that really gets my goat, it’s someone who rants about how important our current and retired soldiers are, and then turns around and betrays them in action.
Not on my watch, sir.
In a recent radio ad, McCain leads us to think that Senator Obama does not support resolving and meeting the critical issues facing our veterans today. So why doesn’t he offer the data in support of that claim? For example, McCain mentions “necessary resources” for our military, but refuses to specify to what he is referring. Bombs? Rifles? Interpreters? Hospitals? Counseling? McCain alleges non support of our noble veterans, surely we can expect him to back it up with specifics and pave the way for an intelligent dialogue about issues veterans deal with daily.
No one would argue that our military needs all the resources critical to its success in missions. But “military” and “veterans” can be different entities. Military can mean those currently serving, and veterans can mean those who served and are now retired. It sounds disturbingly like McCain is referring to the men and women in uniform in the Mid East only, which grossly ignores the men and women out of uniform who are stateside or who have served their country in previous years or wars. Veterans face critical issues in health care, finances and education because politicians turn their backs on them once they leave service, much as McCain is spouting in his radio ad.
Let’s stop the talk and get into the action.
What resources for veterans does McCain claim to support that Senator Obama has not? It’s difficult to believe any senator would not want our current military who serve in combat to have individual body armor, helicopters and ammunition. What legislative bill is McCain referring to when he states that Senator Obama voted against providing these items? The record shows in 2005 Senator Obama voted in favor of an amendment to provide additional funding for veterans and for an amendment to ensure continued funding for veterans’ health care.
McCain voted against these two funding bills.
Precisely what is it Senator Obama opposed that proposed “funding for veterans’ medical facilities and rehabilitation programs”? Does McCain refer to S 2020 proposed in 2005? Senator Obama was part of the majority voting in favor of S 2020 which provided for an additional $500,000 for each of fiscal years 2006 through 2010, to be used for readjustment counseling, related mental health services, and treatment and rehabilitative services for veterans with mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorder.
McCain voted against it.
What about HR 4297 Military Funding and Tax Cuts Amendment of 2006 that set aside $21.9 billion for veterans? It included $14 billion for disability compensation and $6.9 billion for medical services for veterans’ health care. HR 4297 would reduce the deficit by making tax rates fairer for all Americans. Senator Obama supported this amendment.
McCain voted against it.
S Con Res 23/Fiscal 2004 Budget Resolution/Military Health Care, was an amendment to increase spending on the TRICARE program (regionally managed health care for active duty, activated guard and reserves, retired members of the uniformed services, their families and survivors) by $20.3 billion over ten years. This would give members of the National Guard and reserves and their families greater access to the health care program, and be offset by a reduction in tax cuts. Barack Obama had not yet been elected, but John McCain was.
McCain voted against the funding.
Did McCain mean the 2008 Senate amendment to HR 2642? Senate Amendment 4803 to HR 2642 provided, among other things, education funding for eligible members of the Armed Forces. Senator Obama voted in favor of the amendment.
McCain was absent and did not vote.
Speaking of missing in action, McCain’s radio ad states, “There are few votes as important as funding our men and women in uniform.” How does what he says pair up with what he does? Or, in this case, did not do? As he did not do with Senate Amendment 4803, the GI Bill that is crucially important to veterans, as it gives the same kinds of benefits that WWII/Korea vets received. McCain was known to be opposed to it, so no wonder he just went AWOL and saved himself from adding another no vote to his record. Senator Obama, on the other hand, was present and voted in favor of the GI Bill.
More challenges for veterans are yet to come, especially under the next president. An April 2007 article in Congressional Quarterly quoted projections by Linda Bilmes, an expert in veterans’ policy at Harvard University, estimating that the cost for treating Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs will triple to almost $3 billion in 2010, to exceed more than twice that amount during the following four years. Clearly, veterans are in serious need of a president who will prioritize the costs of their ongoing health care needs, before tax cuts for the wealthy. HR 4297 and S Con Res 23/Fiscal 2004 Budget Resolution/Military Health Care prioritized health care over tax cuts for the wealthy.
McCain voted against both.
McCain’s voting against or going missing on legislation for funding for veterans’ healthcare are shots in the back aimed at our veterans. And McCain’s alliance with George W. Bush is even more wounding. McCain refused to defend veterans under Bush’s “cost-cutting” attack of FY 2005. The national income average for a single veteran in 2005 was $25,842. Bush declared that any veteran earning more than an average wage would be denied access to VA hospitals, clinics and medications. With this revised classification over 260,000 veterans were turned away from health care benefits in FY 2005 alone, including nearly 6,000 veterans in McCain’s home state of Arizona. McCain’s past and continuing silence in the face of such aggressive acts against veterans gives little hope of their surviving more political ambushes.
McCain is a veteran, but he doesn’t act like one.
Veterans are completely deserving of all the care and funding we can legislate to guarantee their well-being and happiness. They deserve a change in Washington politics that would guarantee that their issues become a priority. Talk is cheap. Especially to a politician. Yet it comes at a high price for veterans. Comparing the voting record of McCain to Obama, I can only say this: if McCain does not support the funding for a decent quality of life for veterans now as a senator and former soldier, what could he possibly offer veterans as Commander-in-Chief?
Veterans are a band of brothers, but it’s apparent that McCain has deserted the family.