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John McCain and veteran affairs

Coleman, Jason | Thursday, September 11, 2008

Let me first make myself clear: I honor John McCain’s service to this country as a man in uniform during the Vietnam War. Furthermore, I applaud his courage in standing strong as an American P.O.W. for just over five years.Now, let me talk about how absurd it is that this line is necessary before anyone, anywhere criticizes John McCain or his policies. Because this point of character is unassailable, McCain has taken to using it as a defense for all sorts of missteps and mistakes that tend to be unrelated to his armed service experience at all. The constant use of this plea to patriotism diminishes not only his sacrifices, but also the sacrifices all veterans have made for their country.We’ll start with the gaffe-related incidences and move on to those that generate much more cause for concern. In an interview, McCain was asked how many houses he owned. After a bit of thought, he realized he was not sure and told the show to get that information from his staff. While embarrassing and perhaps a little effete, this was a slipup that could probably be overcome.To me, what was embarrassing was the following week when McCain was featured on the Tonight Show. Jay Leno and John McCain were doing the usual late night spiel, joking around about the campaign and the headlines. Everything was fine until Leno asked McCain about the house gaffe.”For one million dollars, how many houses do you have?”He replied: “Could I just mention to you Jay … I spent five and a half years in a prison cell, I didn’t have a house, I didn’t have a kitchen table…”Again, I honor his service, but to bring his service up in this context is a discredit and an affront to the thousands of other Vietnam P.O.W.s who may or may not even own one house, much less five, the number McCain later estimated for himself. The question had nothing to do with his record, nor was it an attack or insult to it. Rather, it was a late night comedian joking about an interview misstep with a politician known for his ability to kid with the press.While this seems to be much ado about nothing, this actually brings me to my point: the larger, more pertinent paradox that John McCain seems to bring to the table with his veteran policy decisions. On the one hand, he implies that he rightly deserves what he has in reward for his time in uniform. But, on the other hand, he consistently votes against legislation that would enable other veterans to achieve similar success in reward for their service.Earlier this summer, a new G.I. bill was put to vote that, if put into effect, would give aid in full to veterans to attend any public four-year college after three years of service. The bill was fairly popular and passed with a veto-proof (Bush had threatened to veto it) majority easily. The sponsors of the bill in the senate, however, met some resistance. John McCain and a group of nine other senators were pressing against the bill, in part because they thought it was too expensive. Granted, $4 billion per year is a lot of money. But this amount seems trite in contrast with the $10 billion per day spent in Iraq that was authorized by these very senators.One could give McCain the benefit of the doubt, assuming this is a rare case for him: voting against veterans. Unfortunately it is not. In fact, Disabled Americans for America found that McCain has voted against veteran funding 70 percent of the time. 70 percent. That means 7 out of 10 times he was saying that veterans should not have the opportunity to go to college until they served for 12 years, or shouldn’t have a full and immediate mental and physical evaluation on returning home.Of course, it is unfair to make a claim on every bill that he voted on over the past two decades. Given the system of committee review, where the VA sub committee reviews each GI bill, it is accurate to say, however, that each bill was beneficial in some way to veterans. We also have to take into consideration that to increase spending so many times would be irresponsible, but it is also probably inaccurate that 70 percent of the bills introduced were too expensive to be enacted in good conscience, especially if such extravagant spending on the war was so easily justified.The heart of the issue lies in the ease with which McCain will play the P.O.W. card at any criticism leveled against him in light of his dismal record on veteran funding bills. While I do not doubt in the least that John McCain understands and appreciates the sacrifice of our men in the armed services, I also don’t understand how he can so easily use his own experience as a defense against almost any criticism without working to improve the benefits for others who have shared with him in those sacrifices.

Jason Coleman is a junior majoring in management. He can be contacted at coleman.70@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.