Editorial Column: Senator McCain Deserts Veterans on Voting Rights, Benefits

Tallahassee Democrat

August 29, 2008 – On its surface, John McCain’s silence on a bill that would ensure that hospitalized veterans can register to vote is curious. A recent report by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that shows troops deployed overseas are giving money to Barack Obama over McCain by a 6-to-1 ratio is mystifying, until you look at the record.

As a Vietnam veteran (I spent 20 years in the Navy), I was interested in McCain’s visit to Florida on Aug. 18 to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Orlando.

Because McCain is a celebrated war hero, I think most people assume he has the veterans’ vote locked up, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

As Dan Moffett reported in the Aug. 3 Palm Beach Post , “When it comes to winning support from veterans, Sen. McCain’s voting record on their issues is an imposing obstacle.”

Even though McCain has received veterans’ health care benefits for years himself, he has voted against at least $172 billion in funding for veterans’ health care during his time in Congress, with at least 30 votes against health care for veterans overall. Just two days after the invasion of Iraq, McCain voted against an increase in veterans’ funding.

Here in Florida, his votes have affected more than $14 million for veterans’ projects, including his objection in 1994 to funding to renovate the Orlando Naval Training Center Hospital for a satellite outpatient nursing home. In 2004, he voted against $200,000 for the city of Ocoee for construction of a senior citizen/veterans service facility.

McCain says he has “a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion,” but according to a report by factcheck.org, neither of these groups even releases congressional scorecards.

The truth is, veterans’ organizations that do have consistently given their fellow veteran dismal ratings.

On an A-F scale, he gets a D rating from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (Obama got a B+). McCain, himself a Vietnam veteran, has voted against the Vietnam Veterans of America on 15 out of 23 key issues (Obama voted with them 12 out of 13 times).

On a 0-100 scale, the Disabled Veterans of America give McCain a rating of 20 percent (Obama got a rating of 80 percent). And VoteVets.org has been extremely critical of McCain’s opposition to the new GI Bill to increase education benefits for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama and 74 other members of the 100-member U.S. Senate voted for it.

In Orlando, McCain said, “The Walter Reed scandal was a disgrace unworthy of this nation — and I intend to make sure that nothing like it is ever repeated.” And yet, the day before his address, USA Today reported, “Mold infests the barracks that were set up here a year ago for wounded soldiers after poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center triggered a systemwide overhaul, soldiers say.”

A little digging reveals McCain has voted against at least $364 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This brings us back to the question of ensuring that our veterans who are now in VA hospitals have every opportunity to register and vote.

Inexplicably, the VA isn’t allowing nonpartisan voter registration in hospitals and nursing homes that serve veterans. There are now 44 members of Congress co-sponsoring a bill to ensure these veterans’ voices can be heard. It’s interesting to note that, while Barack Obama is one of the co-sponsors, John McCain is not.

It’s also interesting to note that, while the Veterans of Foreign Wars has made its support of the bill public, John McCain remained silent on the topic when addressing the organization in Florida this month.

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