As promised, here is the response from Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director of IAVA:
I wanted to respond to the link posted here yesterday by the guys at This Ain’t Hell attacking IAVA and the IAVA Action 2008 Congressional Report Card. I hope you will post this, and let your readers hear from us in response to TSO’s recent post. Glad to see that he personally likes me. I only wish he put his real name on his posts so I knew who it was that was attacking my integrity and that of our organization.
We’re sorry to see TSO leave our membership. But like any veteran, that is of course his right. We have a broad diversity of political opinions within our membership, and encourage everyone who has served in combat since 9/11 to join us. But we don’t charge for membership. Never have and never will. IAVA and its thousands of members are proud of the work we do every day. And I want to set the record straight for the readers of Blackfive (and anyone else who is interested).
IAVA and IAVA Action, our sister fund that released the Congressional Report Card, have always had one primary mission: to advocate for and improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. We are and always have been committed to achieving this objective in a non-partisan way. And we haven’t done half bad. We have a solid track record of getting things done in Washington. Just look at this year’s historic passage of the new GI Bill, a victory that will give every single Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran a chance to go to college. IAVA played a key role in this almost two-year long process (along with our friends at the VFW) that proved to be a game-changer for veterans—and for Washington.
It is easy for folks like TSO to play Monday morning quarterback, but the bottom line is that in the last few years IAVA has been a force in Washington that is always on the side of veterans. Since our founding in 2004, we have pushed relentlessly for cooperation, compromise, and partnership among elected officials, the media, and other veterans organizations to get points on the legislative board in an extremely polarized environment—a place where REAL results are hard to come by. We routinely work closely with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and have established a reputation of delivering to our members--and to our country. We are regarded as the country’s most credible nonpartisan Iraq and Afghanistan veterans group, and that’s why our staffers have testified in front of Congress dozens of times on issues like VA funding, educational benefits, and suicide prevention. You don’t have to take our word for it. Ask Senators Webb, Hagel, Lautenberg or Warner. Call the VFW or talk to Pete Hegseth at Vets for Freedom. Ask a veteran who has been positively impacted by our organization.
In fact, one of TSO’s commenter’s made exactly this point yesterday:
I have to say when it comes to communication and having questions answered... IAVA … are far more respectful, polite, and are willing to help find answers.
At IAVA, we’re proud of our work, and we don’t let misguided attacks on the integrity of our organization go without being challenged.
As for the Report Card campaign specifically, we were clear about the fact that that every legislator received one point when their vote reflected IAVA Action’s position on a particular issue, and straightforward about the fact that we gave lawmakers two points for being a co-sponsor of the “Post 9/11 GI Bill”. GI Bill co-sponsorship was not “extra;” to earn a perfect score, a legislator must have joined every major veterans group in America (including the VFW, American Legion and others), more than half of the Senate and more than three quarters of the House in co-sponsoring the GI Bill. The new GI Bill is the most significant piece of veterans’ legislation of our time and those lawmakers that stood by it early on deserve to be recognized. Most of those 1.7 million veterans who will take advantage of the benefits in the new GI Bill would probably agree...
We didn’t just pick the votes that legislators were graded on out of thin air. As the report clearly states, these votes were selected based on our legislative agenda, an agenda which was not chosen because of special interests or politics, but one that was carefully built on the most pressing priorities of our thousands of veteran members across the country.
It seems ironic that TSO would object to choosing legislation that had high levels of congressional support. We have consistently stated that one of the goals of the Congressional Report Card is to highlight the achievements of the 110th Congress. We are proud to see the extraordinary level of support many pieces of veterans’ legislation received this year. 56 senators received an A ranging the political spectrum from Republicans John Warner (VA) and Walter Jones (NC) to Democrats Jim Webb (VA) and Patrick Murphy (PA). Bipartisan efforts like our work with Republican Senator Kit Bond (MO) on the HONOR Act occurred in this Congress, and deserve nothing less than our full respect and recognition. These successes occurred in part due to hard work and pressure from groups like IAVA and the VFW.
The methodology for our Report Card really could not be any more transparent. Senators and Representatives are paid to go to Washington and represent the American people by sponsoring and voting on legislation. And that’s what we grade them on: actions, not rhetoric. Not their party or their status as a veteran, but their votes. Duncan Hunter (an example cited with outrage by TSO) received a C with good reason. Despite his honorable service, and that of his son, he was running for President and chose to miss 3 critical votes, one on protecting Iraqi interpreters, one on treating TBI and on one expanding veterans benefits. He also decided not to be a GI Bill co-sponsor, in contrast to several of his colleagues—including dozens of Republicans ranging from Representative Peter King (NY) to Senator Pete Domenici (NM). Let’s face it--you aren’t supportive of the troops just by virtue of being a veteran.
We at IAVA understand how Washington works. Our folks are working on the hill every day. They don’t just air drop in a few times a year for press conferences. And we get the complexities of being an elected official and dealing with competing demands. In some cases, the bills we included in the Report Card had other provisions that might have led a Representative or Senator to vote against the larger bill. We know that lawmakers have to make compromises. We get this. That is why we are so thorough in our descriptions of the votes, so that people can understand the politics behind the votes. That’s why, for instance, we state unequivocally when legislation was a part of a continuing resolution, or a part of the Defense Authorization bill.
Not only are we on Capitol Hill everyday, we are active in all 50 states working with veterans, their families, and civilian supporters. We know these folks and work with them every day. We spent the Fourth of July with them in San Diego in which thousands of people came together to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on the deck of the USS Midway. We spent time in Arizona with our members, running at Pat’s Run to support the work of the Tillman Foundation. And we sponsored two brave Iraq veterans who competed in the Paralympic Games in China. We strive to keep membership active and maintain an open dialogue with our members through hundreds of different activities and forms of outreach. And we are proud of those relationships.
As for DIA, which TSO refers to as a “craptastic organization”, this is simply an online mechanism that allows smaller organizations with limited resources like IAVA to communicate with its members. It allows us to keep our budget low and spend money on building other tools for Iraq and Afghanistan vets like www.GIBill2008.org. Being a member of IAVA doesn’t mean that you have to subscribe to the mission statement of DIA-- because it doesn’t dictate or influence any part of IAVA’s messaging or agenda one bit. It is an autonomous organization that maximizes the ability of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to connect with one another and to forge their own agenda independent of outside political influences. Associating IAVA with DIA is like assuming a person has the same political ideals as their phone company.
And as for Phil Carter, it is no secret that he is an IAVA member. We have tens of thousands of members—and Phil is one of them. And we have clarified Phil’s role at IAVA on this page just so there is no confusion. He is not and never has been a paid staff member of IAVA. Give him a call. I am sure he’ll be happy to answer any questions. There are probably members of IAVA working and or volunteering in both Presidential campaigns around the country—and that’s great. As a matter of fact, we met with both the DNC and RNC to offer our input and expertise on their party’s veteran’s platforms and attended both conventions this summer. Any of the organization’s contact with political campaigns has been informational only and entirely legal.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the staff or resources to respond to every single blogger who has a bone to pick with us. But we wanted to provide some clarity for the readers of Blackfive-both because the site is an important to many in our community—and because we are fans of it ourselves.
IAVA Action stands by the integrity and value of the Report Card—and all our efforts over the past few years. We don’t work for Democrats or Republicans--we work for veterans. And we never forget that fact. And we encourage any and all veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their supporters to join us here.