Local Vet Puzzled by McCain’s GI Forum Speech

In a speech today before the American GI Forum in Denver, John McCain told the veterans group that when the government forgets its debts to veterans, it constitutes “a stain upon America’s honor.”

Yet that’s just what one prominent local member of the Hispanic veteran’s rights group says McCain has done, for failing to support the revamped GI Bill and increased medical benefits for veterans during his long tenure as a United States Senator.

A few months ago, I interviewed Louis Tellez of Albuquerque, a World War II Army veteran and former national secretary of the GI Forum.

Tellez, 84, attended college thanks to the original GI bill and credited it with setting him down the path to a lifetime of success.

Tellez told me how dismayed and betrayed he and his fellow vets in the GI Forum felt by McCain ‘s refusal to support the expanded GI Bill.

Every major veterans group, including the American GI Forum, called for passage of the bill.

A few weeks after our conversation the bill did pass, with the overwhelming bipartisan support of nearly every senator except McCain.

Tellez also showed me the GI Forum’s 2008 legislative agenda, which calls for various initiatives to improve the quality of life for veterans.

Most notably, citing the high rates of suicide and brain injury among returning Afghanistan and Iraq War vets, the GI Forum’s platform calls for ensuring maximum funding for medical and mental health care for all veterans.

According to his Senate voting record, McCain has voted repeatedly against expanding compensation for veteran service-connected disabilities since 2000. What does that mean?

That means veterans with physical and mental injuries due to combat or other service, injuries that can make it difficult for them to hold jobs or relate to their families. In short, injured veterans who have paid a price just short of death for serving our country.

It’s puzzling, said Tellez, that McCain, of all people – a war hero, a former prisoner of war who suffered greatly – would fail to support these initiatives for his fellow veterans.

“He’s against everything that benefits vets,” he said, shaking his head. “I wrote to him about three years ago, and I said that, as a vet, he should be well aware of the needs of vets. He never wrote back.”

To contact Tracy Dingmann email her at tdingmann@gmail.com

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