The Republican Party in general is more than willing to sell patriotism and rah-rah the boys as they march off to war but it doesn’t seem to care much about them afterward. They’re a disposable commodity. Use them and toss them aside. As Disabled American Veterans spokesman Dave Autry puts it, “every single initiative to support veterans was defeated in Congress until the Democrats took control of both houses in January 2007.
John McCain, who is often called a war hero, has always portrayed himself a staunch supporter of the U.S. military and of national security – and a supporter of American veterans – which is what you would expect from a veteran. Especially a guy who spent so much time in a prisoner of war camp. You’d think he’d understand what these guys deal with on a daily basis, both while in a war zone and when they come home and try to cope with their experiences as they make the return to civilian life.
The truth is rather different, as it so often is where John McCain is concerned; John McCain, who epitomizes the bait and switch. This is what you see, but this is most definitely not what you get.
As U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) discovered to his dismay when he tried to do something about it. When a New Jersey Veteran committed suicide, and Rep. Holt found out the man had difficulty getting counseling for his problems, he came up with a solution. He introduced legislation to address the problem – the Sgt. Coleman S. Bean Individual Ready Reserve Suicide Prevention Act of 2010. “A serious gap exists in military suicide prevention efforts – a gap that needlessly cost the life of one young Central New Jersey resident,” he said.
Coleman Bean, for whom the bill was named, served with the 173rd Airborne in Iraq. When he returned home from his tour in 2004, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite this, he was sent back to Iraq for a second tour in 2007, and a third tour of duty was a possibility, according to his family. Instead, he found out he was ineligible as a serving member of the military to obtain counseling. He suffered from his traumas, and at last, the 25-year-old soldier killed himself.
The bill would have made $20 million available to the Department of Veterans Affairs budget to be spent on direct advertising and online social media “for suicide prevention outreach.” It would also have required the Department of Defense Individual Ready Reserve members receive “a counseling call from properly trained personnel not less than once every 90 days so long as the servicemember remains a member of the IRR.”
Sounds like a good plan. Find a problem; find a solution. But it wasn’t so easy. As MyCentralJersey.com reports,
Last week, Holt had fresh anger when he learned that his bill had been eliminated from the final version of the Defense Appropriations Act presented to both houses of Congress.
The cause of the bill’s elimination? None other than John McCain: “I talked to Sen. McCain over the phone. He said he blocked it and he will continue to block it,” said Holt.
John didn’t see a problem, you see. It’s only a veteran. We don’t need him anymore. John’s only interested in soldiers before they get sent to a war zone. And they don’t have a problem in Arizona, he said. New Jersey veterans matter less to John than those from his own state. And calling the soldiers to see how they are doing?
“He [McCain] said having these counselors check in with the Reservists every few months this way overreaching,” said Holt of a phone conversation with McCain. “I asked him in what sense it was overreaching. Surely he didn’t think there wasn’t a problem, did he? I must say I don’t understand it.”
Overreaching? This is hardly the first time McCain has let veterans down, and his lack of concern for their health has long been noted by veterans groups.
As far back as the 2000 South Carolina primary he was accused of ignoring veterans’ groups. According to the Army Times, in 2008 McCain got a grade of “D” from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America based on his voting record. In that year, says Military.com, McCain “supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans just 20 percent of the time” and as the Washington Independent reported in 2008,
Though polls show that Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, enjoys solid support from veterans, some vet organizations are sharply critical of the Arizona senator’s legislative voting record on issues important to them. They have lambasted him for voting against the 21st Century G.I. bill; against providing more money for veterans’ health care, and for a proposal that many regard as an effort to privatize their care.
As the Independent goes on to note,
This is not the first time that McCain’s voting record on veterans’ issues has been criticized — particularly on health care. According to an AFL-CIO TV ad, broadcast in six battleground states in late July and early August, McCain talks a lot about supporting veterans but repeatedly votes against their interests.
It turns out that John McCain has a habit “of voting against appropriating money for veterans’ health care and disability payments. As Military.com relates,
According to Disabled American Veterans, McCain voted almost a dozen separate times against spending additional money on veterans’ health care in 2005 and 2006, even as hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and filing disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
FactCheck.org, a non-profit, non-partisan, consumer advocacy project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, says that McCain is being treated unduly harshly because he did later vote for other bills that benefited veterans:
- “In 2004, he voted against an increase of $1.8 billion, voted for an increase of $1.2 billion passed by unanimous consent,”
- “In 2005, he voted against an increase of $2.8 billion, but voted for a $410-million increase.”
- “In 2006, he voted against a $1.5 billion increase, but later voted for an $823 million increase.”
- In 2007 he voted against a 2007 supplemental spending bill for the Iraq War that ended up being vetoed by President Bush – a bill that included $1.77 billion in additional funding for veterans’ health care benefits. Afterward, McCain voted for slightly more money, $1.79 billion, to be used for the same purpose.
Of course, this money applied to veterans and would not have helped Individual Ready Reserve Sgt. Coleman Bean, as he found out. McCain told the American Legion convention in 2008 that he voted against these bills because they contained pork
“If it’s me sitting in the Oval Office…those wasteful spending bills are going the way of all earmarks — straight back to Congress with a veto. When we make it clear to Congress that no earmark bill will be signed into law, that will save many billions of dollars that can be applied to essential priorities, and above all to the care of our veterans.”
Then why did you let Sgt. Coleman Bean die, Senator McCain? Pork? McCain’s excuse falls flat in any event; in each of the first three votes, he voted for reduced spending. It wasn’t just pork he was voting against, but against the amount of money provided for veterans’ care. Only in 2007 did he vote an increase in spending over a previous bill and then by a much smaller amount than previous reductions.
In fact, McCain has offered no defense of his actions with regards Rep. Holt’s bill. His office has been silent. Huffington Post yesterday reported that “McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan took issue with Holt’s version of events, saying that he should look to his House colleagues for why the amendment was removed.”
That’s not much of an answer. But then McCain says he is a maverick. Maybe he can maverick away the truth. Holt, for his part, will soldier on, trying to get his bill passed: “I’ll keep trying to have the best possible federal policy to provide this help. I thought it was just an oversight or a mistake when the Senate rejected this last year, but when they really deliberately and knowingly rejected it this time, I was just appalled.”
And our soldiers – and our veterans, will continue to suffer while we treat them as objects, a disposable product to be used to manipulate international affairs, like soap you’d use to clean a floor and then wash down the drain, forgotten. But our soldiers are not disposable, they have friends and family who love them – and they deserve a country that loves them too, not only while they are doing their duty, but afterward too. Saving Sgt. Coleman Bean’s life would not, Senator McCain, have been “overreaching.”