VFF Guest Authors- Mark Seavey
Lost in the nuance of discussions about scorecards and who endorsed who is the fact that none of those indicia are particularly good at prognosticating what will happen with the next Administration with regards to veterans. As they say on TV, past performance does not guarantee future results.
Much has been made of the IAVA and DAV scorecards among other scorecards. I’ve tried to show by looking into the actual votes that the sticky issues in veterans issues cannot be pared down into a “yes” or “no” vote. Take for instance the vote of Jim DeMint of South Carolina who was pegged as the lone vote against H.R. 2642 in part earned him an “F” from IAVA. Billed by IAVA as “funding veterans’ health care, 2008”, this vote was actually for a Supplemental Appropriations Act, funding not only the VA, but also such federal programs as the “Foreign Agricultural Service”, the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives” and the United States Marshals Service. However, DeMint’s vote in opposition wasn’t because of any of those things, he voted against it because of
“an appalling earmark that takes $4 Billion dollars which should be used to care for the brave men and women who fought for our country and turns it over to build a park for Beverley Hills 90210. We should all be able to agree that a community with an average household income of $125,000 has a sufficient tax base to build a park and doesn’t need a $4 Billion hand out from the federal government. The men and women who wore America’s uniform need the money a lot more than the men and women who wear Prada.”
Senator Obama and Senator McCain have indeed disagreed on some issues involving veterans, the GI Bill for instance. I personally like the Bill we have, the one largely the same as the Webb bill, but demonizing McCain on supporting a different measure seems unfounded. While I disagree with the Pentagon’s assertion that the bill would decimate reenlistments, McCain only sought to incorporate the suggestions made by Undersecretary of Defense David Chu and others regarding transferability.
It used to be the case that the Veterans’ Affairs Committees in both the House and Senate were largely governed by a desire to do the best for the veterans, and not to score cheap political points. Without assigning blame for why this no longer happens, you can perhaps see its genesis in the GOP stripping Chris Smith (R-NJ) of his chairmanship of that Committee. Making this even more unpalatable, Lane Evans (D-IL), a champion of veteran’s issues if there ever was one, retired in 2006 with debilitating Parkinson’s disease. From these two men who got along famously well, we went to Steve Buyer (R-IN) and Bob Filner (D-CA) who’s enmity is publicly acknowledged. These two probably would fight over whether water is indeed wet.
Additionally, we’ve seen politics creeping into the position of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Secretary Principi was a tireless advocate of veterans and service-members. When I was in A-stan, Secretary Principi came to town, and rather than head off to the BDOC like every other political visitor, Mr Secretary immediately hopped into a humvee and came and visited the troops in their towers on the perimeter. Not one to buy everything he was told, Principi went and talked to the troops. Upon his resignation in 2005, he was replaced by Secretary Jim Nicholson, a man who had never worked veteran’s issues in his life, and whose sole experience seems to have been his service as Vice-Chairman of the RNC and his military pedigree.
Scorecards and demonizing opponents is a standard practice in all aspects of politics. But, would that as a society we could exempt veterans’ issues from this dichotomy. We are veterans all, not GOP veterans and DEM veterans. Just guys and gals who once wore the green or tan or blue, and we run the gamut of political opinions and personal philosophies. Hopefully a President Obama or President McCain can get us back to where we were in those halcyon days of old when a veteran was a veteran by virtue of their service, and the proper caring of those individuals is the end state, not a political shillelagh to bludgeon opponents with.