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It's taken years, but where Morris's low-priority status once forced him to wait up to six months for a doctor's appointment at the VA, he's now at the top of the list.
Larry Morris wasn't at the American Legion convention this summer, but he probably would have appreciated the irony of a statement McCain made there about veterans' benefits. Asked about the backlog of unresolved benefits cases at the VA, McCain called it a "national disgrace." Instead of vets having to prove they're disabled, McCain said, "maybe sometimes we oughta have a more balanced situation where the government has to prove that they're not."
Andrew Vera isn't surprised that it's hard for a vet like Morris to get by. He says it can be even harder for soldiers who served more recently.
Vera enlisted in the Navy shortly after 9/11, knowing the country was going to war. He was in Iraq for the invasion in 2003, assigned to the highest-level triage unit in the Middle East. There was no burn unit anywhere in the region, he says, so his unit created a makeshift one. It was Vera's job to track patients. "I saw most of the initial injuries," he says, including those of Lori Piestewa, an Army soldier who was the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military.
He wrote down information about each casualty by hand, because there was no other method; eventually, he built a database.
Vera completed two tours in Iraq, leaving the Navy in 2005 and returning home to Phoenix.
It's not a good place to be a veteran, he says.
"Phoenix is a scary place. It's not a military town. And a lot of guys come out here; there aren't a lot of jobs out here. It's warm, but Phoenix and Arizona, there isn't a structure for these guys, for young veterans to be caught and effectively spoken to and get help. And I guess for a lot of young guys, they're not going to get help."
Vera did — eventually.
At first he didn't know he needed it. Family and friends pointed out his behavior: Vera was drinking heavily. He switched jobs often and found himself in confrontations with co-workers. He couldn't communicate; he wasn't socializing.
He approached Senator John McCain's local office for help, with no luck.
Vera is careful not to bash his fellow vet — at least not too much. "John McCain, his staff has really tried to be a source of information and a source of assistance, but I think that, over the past five or six years, his office has become overwhelmed," he says. "There's a case overload. Clearly running for president is what his priority is now."
So Vera went to Arizona congressman Ed Pastor's office. It took another ten months for Vera to qualify for benefits from the VA, which diagnosed him with a full-blown case of post-traumatic stress disorder. "In the military, they tell you what to do and they give you the services because they want a fit force," Vera says. Once he got home, though, things changed.
Things changed drastically for Brian Callan when he came home, too.
Callan, a veteran of the first Gulf War, was shot by police in the parking lot of a Toyota dealership in Phoenix in 2001. It was obviously a suicide; Callan egged on the cops.
He had been diagnosed with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He was a big fan of John McCain, and wrote the senator letters on random topics, such as the collapse of the Enron Corporation. Two months after his death, Callan's mother approached the senator's local veterans' affairs staffer, Tom McCanna, and asked him to help her get the information she needed to file a tort claim against the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Phoenix. The family felt strongly that poor medical treatment had led to Callan's behavior and ultimate death.
She still has a copy of the typewritten letter she sent to McCanna, dated November 14, 2002. After she didn't hear from McCain's office, she put a sticky note on the letter: "McCanna never followed thru — did not receive forms."
Callan's mother also tried the local Veterans Administration office, with no luck. Finally, a friend of her son's spent hours on the Internet and found the forms. The claim was denied.
"It just makes you lose faith," she says. "I just thought that his office would help represent his constituent who was so loyal to McCain. And to his country."
For years, many Arizonans have referred to their senior senator as "the senator from Washington, D.C." John McCain has always been more interested in the national platform than the home trenches.
But it's on the national stage where McCain's performance has been the most disappointing to his fellow veterans.
Since 1987, McCain has voted against dozens of measures designed to assist veterans. Here are a few examples of pro-veteran legislation that didn't get McCain's support:
• January 2008: McCain didn't vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, which included an increase in basic monthly pay for active military by 3.5 percent and permitted vets who are 100 percent disabled to receive both retirement and disability pay.