By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
But the new round of complaints is a different story. It's not only about a difference of opinion over how the war in Iraq is being handled, though that's part of it. It's a story about how the soldiers are treated once they come home.
Vote Vets' Friedman has documented and circulated dozens of instances since 1987 in which the senator has voted against what adds up to billions of dollars in funding for veterans for health care, counseling and other benefits. McCain has voted to outsource VA jobs held by blue-collar veterans and supports privatizing health care for veterans — very unpopular positions among many vets.
More famously, he actively opposed the most recent GI Bill, stating that its education benefits were so generous that he worried it would encourage military personnel to leave the service. Even his conservative colleague and ally John Warner, the Republican senator from Virginia, supported the bill, but McCain wouldn't budge; he didn't bother to show up for the final vote.
When Barack Obama criticized his position on the GI Bill, McCain responded with a press conference, at which he said, "I believe that I have earned the right to speak out on veterans' issues. As a matter of fact, I've received the highest award from literally every veterans' organization in America."
While it's true that veterans' groups have honored McCain for his service in Vietnam, few, if any, are praising him for his service to veterans while in Congress, particularly in the past several years.
Most vet special-interest groups decline to officially take sides. Even Vote Vets hasn't made a presidential endorsement, but it's one of many veterans' groups to note the discrepancy between John McCain's talk and his actions.
In both 2006 and 2007-2008, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a D for his record on key congressional votes.
The Disabled American Veterans scored him at 20 percent in 2006, 25 percent in 2005 and 50 percent in 2004.
And the Retired Enlisted Association gave him a 0 in 2006 and a rating of 18 percent in 2004.
Another organization, Veterans for Common Sense, posted this comment on its website earlier this year: "John McCain is yet another Republican...military veteran who likes to talk a big game when it comes to having the support of the military. Yet, time and time again, he has gone out of his way to vote against the needs of those who are serving in our military. If he can't even see his way to actually do what the troops want, or what the veterans need, and he doesn't have the support of veterans, then how can he be a credible commander in chief?"
The special-interest groups aren't the only ones taking notes on McCain's voting record.
John Adams retired last year as an Army brigadier general. His last assignment was as deputy U.S. military representative to NATO in Brussels. He moved to Tucson and signed up as the head of Arizona Veterans for Obama. "It's really disingenuous for him to say that he has taken care of veterans in any way," Adams says. "His voting record shows that he hasn't."
And then there's Don Johnson.
A veteran of the first Gulf War, Johnson took a bullet in the leg and has been up and down on his luck ever since. He's currently sleeping in the overflow lot at the downtown shelter and spending days at the Arid Club, which holds meetings of 12-step programs.
When asked to talk about his feelings about McCain, Johnson did his homework. Not only did he go to the library to research the senator's voting record, he took it upon himself to conduct an unofficial survey of his fellow homeless veterans, including a Vietnam vet named Nick, who hasn't voted in twenty years but registered this time so he can vote against McCain.
In August, a Gallup poll showed McCain well ahead of Obama among vets (mainly, the pollsters said, because McCain is a Republican). More recently, a non-scientific poll released by Military Times showed that vets preferred McCain three to one to Obama. That would be a coup for McCain, although those surveyed by Military Times were older, whiter and more senior in rank than the general armed-services population. But the Center for Responsive Politics reported this summer that Obama had received about $74,000 in political contributions from active military personnel, compared with McCain's $16,000.
If nothing else, John McCain's voting record on veterans' issues is a stunning example of hypocrisy, since he owes his celebrity status to his time as a POW.
In an effort to rehabilitate himself after the Keating Five scandal and show he wanted to stop government overspending, McCain made Arizona a sacrificial lamb, refusing to request or support any earmarked spending. Every year, millions of dollars are appropriated to specific projects in individual states. Some are boondoggles, to be sure, but others are good programs, including many for veterans. Citizens Against Government Waste, which has made McCain its poster boy, publishes a list every year of programs the group and McCain dismiss as pork.
There are no projects marked "Arizona" in the veterans-related "pork" that Citizens Against Government Waste has listed for the past several years, but the list targets dozens of programs in other states designed to help veterans.