First Iraq War Vet elected to Congress loses seat

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Will Right-Wing victories bode well for Veterans benefits such as the Post 911 GI Bill?

Focusing on the background and controversy surrounding the establishment of the Post 911 GI Bill, combined with the Republican track record in making VA cost cutting a higher priority than Veterans, we at Veterans Today do not believe it will.

Rick Maze at Army Times (well Military Times) has just written an article about Elections Remove Top Military and Veteran Advocates from Congress in which he notes that quite a few Democrats who have been top supporters of Veterans and the military have lost seats.

I believe this is not surprising given the apathy in the nation and electorate toward Vets, troops, and the wars which were glaringly off the radar this election. I foresee efforts by both parties and the few Tea Party candidates who got elected to keep the wars off the political radar if not the Vets and troops. Thus, you see that there can be support for Vets and troops but not support for the wars polls still reflect a majority of Americans question the wars if not in the streets.

Nevertheless, these loses, especially the loss of the first Iraq Veteran elected to Congress, Democrat Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania may not bid well for younger Veterans despite the Republican and Tea Parties ability to also bring a few Iraq and Afghanistan War Vets to Congress and state legislatures.

Writing in his article From Combat to Capitol Hill: The New Vet 27 Paul Rieckhoff, the Executive Director and Founder, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) notes that “no one is really talking about: the surge of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running [for political office] this year.

 Today, 27 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will seek national office. Twenty-five are campaigning for House seats and two are running for the Senate. Eighteen are running as Republicans, nine as Democrats. They are as ideologically diverse as the electorate they hope to represent and share only one agenda item: their desire to continue their service.”

Given the opponents of the Post 911 GI Bill, which still has it’s critics within the Veterans and political community. The initial opposition to the 21st Century GI Bill came from conservatives. Prior to passing the bipartisan Post 911 Bill, some Department of Defense officials, John McCain and President Bush had argued that the measures would hurt servicemember retention in a time when retention is critical for the military.
A Congressional Budget Office report that had been cited by opponents states that [active duty military] retention will drop by 16%, while proponents counter that the same study predicts recruitment will be up by 16% due to the new incentives this bill would create. Senator Jim Webb (D.VA) who introduced the bill that would become the Post 911 GI Bill also pointed out that currently, “recent studies show that 70% of all enlisted members get out at or before their initial enlistment.”
While President Bush had initially threatened to veto the bill, in early June 2008 the White House signaled he might be willing to sign it along with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009. Bush wanted to see transferability between spouses and dependents added onto the new G.I. Bill, making it more valuable to career military personnel that would like to pay for their spouse or child’s education. On June 19, 2008 this provision was added to the war funding bill and President Bush indicated he would sign such a bill. This provision already existed with respect to the Montgomery GI Bill for regular servicemembers (the MGIB-AD).
During the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign the Post 911 GI Bill became a campaign issue with each candidate introducing diverse legislation trying to out do one another on benefit package. In all fairness, Senator McCain’s version was designed to make the bill more beneficial to active duty military retention. He introduced a competing bill. Sen. McCain’s bill would have increased the basic education benefit by the current G.I. Bill by almost $3,000 a year and added another $4,200 a year for service members who stayed in the military for at least 12 years. With the added transferability provisions for continued military service desired by the Bush administration, Sen. McCain came to support the bill because it was changed to encourage additional military service beyond three years, mitigating his earlier concerns. Sen. McCain, who had not voted in the Senate since April 8, was campaigning in Ohio on June 26, 2008 and was not present for the final senate vote on the bill. The only other senator not voting was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was recovering after surgery to remove a brain tumor.  Then-United States Senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who had expressed early support for the Webb version of the veteran education benefits, voted for the final bill on June 26. McCain’s failure to vote on the Post 911 GI Bill was successfully used by political opponents, including young Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who ran an ad campaign giving the impression that McCain did not support any bill.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continued quietly opposing Webb’s proposal — charging that it costs too much and will encourage military personnel to leave service early. Supporters of the Webb initiative counter that it’s the least the country can do to recognize the troops’ sacrifice. As for the military’s troubles keeping troops in their boots, well, Bush critics point out that it’s probably not an education benefit that’s discouraging higher numbers.

“The Iraq war is the reason for the retention problem they have,” Webb spokeswoman Kimberly Hunter said

Why this long winded background on the political controversy surrounding the passing of the bipartisan Post 911 GI Bill?

Well the bean counters and budget cutters are now in control of the House if not Senate. They will be looking in all directions outside of the defense budget, which Veterans benefits does NOT fall under, to make CUTS to (snicker) balance the budget. These same folks have successfully with the assist of mainstream media managed to keep Vets and Wars out of the public eye this election with a focus on the economy without connecting the dots between the costs of wars and our economic meltdown.

We at Veterans Today believe that the budget cutters will focus on that which they did not support in the first place Senator Jim Webb’s Post 911 GI Bill.
Previous opponents in the Congress will be looking in that direction to CUT COSTS on the back of America’s Veterans. Remember which party it was under the Bush administration that shut the doors of the VA Hospitals by means testing America’s Veterans. Are Vets ready for a return of Congressman Steve Buyer as Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee? Who was the point man for the Bush administration sent in to cut cost at the Department of Veterans Affairs? That’s right Congressman Steve Buyer (R.IN)
I hope I’m proven wrong, and I do believe that such at attack on Veterans benefits will remain easier to stave off as long as our troops are at war and enough Veterans “Service” Organizations stand up for Veterans instead of whichever political party they lean towards.
Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how one looks at it), the critics of the current Post 911 GI Bill are more constructive and focused on making it better, closing gaps in it, and trying to attract more Vets to use it. That’s a very good approach. (See Post 911 GI Bill Update – May 2010 on military.com AND 9 ways to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill: Vet groups, and critics say changes needed to spur participation on Military Times.)
We have even began to give coverage to the issues surrounding Educating Veterans in the 21st Century here at Veterans Today. Let’s hope and pray that the focus of critics remain on ways in which to make the Post 911 GI Bill better as opposed to having to fend off ways to cut cost on the backs of America’s Veterans.
On a more broader note, we can look forward to Republican and Tea Bay Party efforts to roll back Obama’s promises to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan by any set date.
We at Veterans Today believe that these directions the country will be taken (foreign policy) effectively kept off the election radar will be more neo-conservative in nature, and that Bush hold overs in the Pentagon will be more emboldened to continue challenging  President Obama on maintaining a footprint in Iraq and Afhganistan indefinitely. If President Obama moves further right-wing in an effort to appease the Republican majority in Congress, he will only lose the rest of the Democrat Party base and that’s a fact.

It remains to be seen what Tea Party candidates who lean Libertarian will do, because a few just might look at the wars in fiscal conservative terms if nothing else.

Robert L. Hanafin, Major, U.S. Air Force-Ret, GS-14, U.S. Civil Service-Ret, Veterans Issues Editor, Veterans Today News Network

Elections Remove Top Military and Veteran Advocates from Congress

Written by Rick Maze, Wednesday, 03 November 2010 16:52

(ArmyTimes)

“Tuesday’s elections swept some key Democrats from [the] House of Representatives, including the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress.

Also gone is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee who was one of the key proponents of improvement in military family housing and barracks, the House Budget Committee chairman who made sure there was money for improvement in military pay and benefits, and chairman of the veterans’ disability assistance subcommittee who have been pushing to eliminate the backlog of veterans’ benefits claims while trying to reduce the number of errors.

The lawmakers were defeated in an election that will result in control of the House of Representatives shifting in January to Republicans.

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) Note: Out of 18 Democrats on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 13 or 14 will be gone by January 2011.

One of the biggest Democratic bulls to fall in the election is Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the House Armed Services Committee chairman… He had shown unusual concern…about the professional education of people in the military, and he played a key role in the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that gave combatant commands more power and forced joint-service education and cooperation on a reluctant Defense Department. A self-taught military historian, Skelton believed that young military officers could learn lessons from the past, and created a list of books he felt every officer should read.

A decision about who succeeds Skelton as the Armed Services chairman will be made later in November, but Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., is expected to get the job. McKeon, currently the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has less experience than Skelton in working on personnel issues, but he has been a key advocate for getting colleges to make it easier for Guard and reserve members whose education is disrupted by military duties to receive refunds for tuition and fees. He has also pressed for changes in the Post-9/11 GI Bill so that students attending California schools are not disadvantaged by heavily subsidized tuition at public institutions.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., came to Congress in 2007 as the first Iraq war veteran to be elected, and he used a seat on the Armed Services Committee to press a number of issues that affected the war and returning service members. He also became the leading advocate in Congress for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.





Working on military and veterans issues appeared to be of little help in the election.

Among the defeated incumbents was Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding veterans programs and construction on military bases. Edwards had been the person behind dramatic improvements in the quality of family housing and barracks on military bases, and led efforts to greatly expand the number of on-base child care centers after hearing complaints about long waiting lists.

Also defeated were Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., chairwoman of the Veterans’ Affairs economic opportunity subcommittee, who had worked on [the Post 911] GI Bill, veterans employment and rehabilitation legislation; and Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs disability assistance subcommittee, who had worked with Edwards to find funding for extra employees for the Veterans Affairs Department to process benefits claims with hopes of reducing a growing backlog.

Skelton isn’t the only…incumbent to be defeated. Also losing a re-election bid was Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., the House Budget Committee chairman and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee who was an expert on nuclear weapons and arms control, and Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on sea power and expeditionary forces. Spratt had served in Congress since 1983, and Taylor had served since 1989.

Iraq Wat Vet  Jon Soltz, Chairman, VoteVets.org had this to say about the defeat of military veterans in the Democrat Party.

“Let’s not mince words.  Tuesday night was a rough one for many candidates we supported.  Yet, at the same time, there is some hope….

Unfortunately, we lost some great Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in Congress, including Patrick Murphy (D.PA), Joe Sestak (D.PA), Chris Carney (D.PA), and John Boccieri (D.OH). In an election that trended against their party, though, they all were competitive.

In Minnesota, though, Tim Walz won his reelection battle.

At the same time, we were able to help a great veterans advocate – Senator Harry Reid – win reelection in Nevada.  To remind you, VoteVets put $600,000 into that race….  And, while there are votes to still be counted, one of the best friends that veterans have ever had, Senator Patty Murray (D.WA), looks like she’ll win, as well.  VoteVets worked hard in that state, knocking on thousands of doors, spreading word about her record on vets’ issues.  Additionally, we worked in Colorado to return Senator Michael Bennet (D.CO), who has been a friend and ally to veterans, and he won his race.

What’s this all mean?

Well, first of all, it means we’re going to have to work even harder during this new Congress to preserve veterans programs from the budget ax. It means we’re going to have to fight even more tenaciously to push for energy independence that gets us off Middle East Oil.  It means we’re going to have to speak even more loudly when it comes to continuing to restore America’s place in the world.

Veterans Today Editorial Note: We are almost on the same page with Jon here, see my comments above about the Post 911 GI Bill, and which political party was it that closed the doors of VA Hospitals to Veterans who made (or had made) too much money after serving in the military (wink).

Jon continues. Second of all, it means that we will need to encourage more veterans to run for public office, and help them win.  And, in that area, there is some good news.  While a good number of our Congressional allies lost on Tuesday, we had some great victories among our Emerging Leaders.

Young veterans running for lower office.

  • In Nevada, Elliot Anderson (D.NV), a former Marine who was a state captain for VoteVets.org, is now going to be a State Assemblyman.
  • Ruben Gallego (D.AZ), one of our leaders in Arizona won his election to become a new State Representative.
  • Harold Naughton (D.Mass), an Iraq War Veteran, will continue to serve in the Massachusetts State House.
  • In Missouri, Iraq veteran Steven Webber (D.MO) won his race for state house.
  • In Delaware, Beau Biden (D.Del), the son of the Vice President, and an Iraq war veteran, won re-election as Delaware Attorney General.

So, the next generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans entering public life are well on their way.

Still, VoteVets has a lot of tough work ahead – tougher because of the results on Election Day.  But, as tough as it is, it’s nowhere near as tough as what our men and women in uniform face every day, or what veterans faced when they came home.  We’re not going to lay down or quit – we never have –  and you can’t either.

So, dust yourself off, and commit to working even harder with VoteVets, starting today.
Veterans Today Editorial Comment: It is not the shift in experience level in Congress that we foresee as a problem for Veterans or Vet benefits such as the Post 911 GI Bill. What we do see as a threat is the track record of Republicans and reluctance of the Tea Party to connect the dots between our economic meltdown and the wars nor speak to Veterans issues except to exploit the Veterans vote. Those Veterans Service Organizations that monitor the Veteran friendliness or support in Congress confirms that Democrat Party members are recognized more so that conservatives in their real support for America’s Vets and Troops (DAV and IAVA rating systems of political support for Veterans confirms this). Conservative opposition to the Post 911 GI Bill is but one example of this.

Author Details
Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I’ve posted on Veterans Today, I’ve had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I’ve been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I’m now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.
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