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By Alan Prendergast
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For 2008 alone, the list included:
• $196,000 for housing homeless veterans with special needs here in Denver;
• $277,000 to train veterans to be teachers in Pensacola, Florida;
• $196,000 for a computer lab for disabled veterans in Providence, Rhode Island;
• $196,000 for renovation, construction and buildout for a low-income veterans' housing program in southeastern Massachusetts;
• $147,000 for construction of affordable housing for homeless veterans in San Diego.
McCain voted against them all, just to make a point.
In his memoir Faith of My Fathers, published in 1999 as his first presidential bid went into full swing, McCain admitted that he'd received better treatment than his fellow Hanoi Hilton prisoners because of his father's status at the time as a high-ranking Naval commander. Not that prison camp was a walk in the park for him — to this day, you can see the scars of war as he makes his way across a stage to speak.
But in his books, McCain doesn't dwell on how much his life was different from the lives of his fellow soldiers — after the war.
McCain endured painful physical therapy in his quest to fly again, but he didn't have trouble getting treatment. His biggest career challenge was persuading his military bosses to allow him to study at the War College; as he wrote, he pulled strings with now-Senator Warner (his father's old friend during Warner's time as Secretary of the Navy) when he was told his military rank didn't qualify him for the placement he wanted.
McCain had come home in 1973. By 1980, after a prestigious stint as a Navy liaison to the U.S. Senate (landed through his father's influence), he'd met a much younger and richer woman, Cindy Lou Hensley; ended his first marriage to Carol McCain, who herself had been gravely injured in a car accident while he was in Vietnam; and taken off for his new home, Arizona.
He'd also given up the military for a career in politics.
He was pretty much a one-note wonder in a crowded campaign in 1982 for the congressional seat being vacated by John Rhodes. "Thanks to my prisoner of war experience, I had a good first story to sell," he and Mark Salter wrote in a later memoir, Worth the Fighting For, published in 2002.
McCain emerged from a crowded Republican Party to take the congressional seat he'd come to Arizona to claim. From the start, he toed the GOP line — even if it meant crossing his fellow vets. In 1983, he was the featured speaker at the state Disabled American Veterans convention. Before he spoke, the DAV's state commander took the stage to sharply criticize the Reagan administration's lack of support for veterans' benefits, despite campaign promises to the contrary.
Instead of standing up for veterans' benefits, McCain rose to defend Reagan.
Larry Morris, a Vietnam veteran who has lived in Arizona off and on since the early 1980s, remembers attending another meeting, this one at the Phoenix Vet Center in 1984. McCain was there, too. The topic: suing the government and chemical companies over the use of Agent Orange. Morris recalls that McCain was not in favor of the national class-action suit that was ultimately filed and settled many years later for more than $100 million.
"He stood up and voiced his opinion. His opinion was that it was unpatriotic to sue the government," says Morris. "There was a lot of booing and hissing, and I think it was at that point that the suggestion was made that Congressman McCain leave."
Like John McCain, Larry Morris comes from a military family. His father was an Army sergeant, his mother an Army nurse. Morris remembers living in Germany just after World War II, seeing what remained of the concentration camps. He joined the Navy on his seventeenth birthday to help support his seven younger siblings (one of whom is longtime Colorado AIM activist Glenn Morris).
After two tours in Vietnam, Morris landed in San Diego with shrapnel in his arm. (He says the wound was never officially treated, that a medic dumped some iodine on it and dressed it.) Parasites from his time in the Navy irritate his digestive system to this day, and he has a constant ringing in his ears that doctors speculate was caused by a forty-pound brick falling on his neck and shoulder, knocking him to a lower deck on the ship on which he was stationed.
Morris was released from the Navy 45 days early after complaining of nightmares. There was no treatment offered at the time for post-traumatic stress disorder; the doctor just gave him some tranquilizers. He still has nightmares, more than forty years later.
After some false starts over the years, in 2004 Morris tried in earnest to get better health care from the VA. He visited McCain's Tempe office but was told that without a Purple Heart, nothing could be done. Like many Vietnam vets, Morris doesn't have his medical records from Vietnam. He has other medals, but no Purple Heart.
McCain's office could have written a letter or made a phone call, but all Morris got was a list of addresses.
Ultimately, he says, "I did better on my own, just writing letters to the Secretary of the Navy."