When Romney and Ryan recently appeared in Norfolk on the decks of the USS Wisconsin, it was enough to make me sick. First, just how was it that he was able to garner the use of this historic battlewagon that is a public museum operated by the US Navy? Well, they had enough money to rent it from the organization that maintains it, according to a response from an email I sent them. It was nauseating to see Romney and Ryan (another flag-waving super patriot who managed never to serve in the military) speaking from a place of historical significance to three generations of America's fighting men and women when neither of them had the courage to put their lives on the line for the country they both claim has given them so much. And, just to be clear, Paul Ryan is no friend of ours, either. On March 20, 2012, the Washington Post reported that, over the first ten years of a Ryan budget, spending on veterans would be cut by 13%. Although his staff claims that his budget actually increases veterans spending by $17 billion during that period, that increase actually represents greatly reduced funding for the VA based upon increases in their budget under Obama and projections by the Congressional Budget Office on a greatly increased population of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who will require medical care and entitlement to disability compensation.
When Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he was no friend to that state's veterans. During the USS Wisconsin campaign event to announce Paul Ryan as his VP pick, Paula Miller, who represented Norfolk in the Virginia House of Delegates, explained Mitt Romney's record on veterans' issues as governor of Massachusetts, and what his record and his policies would mean for veterans across the country:
"Having Romney in the White House would only add to the uncertainty for Virginia's veterans and military families. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney tried to balance the budget on the backs of veterans and their families by cutting funding for veterans' benefits while proposing increased fees on long-term care for our veterans. He even vetoed $2.1 million of support for Massachusetts veterans and attempted to downsize the Department of Veterans Affairs."
Romney has tapped three former heads of the VA to advise him on veterans issues: James Nicholson, also a former head of the Republican National Committee, Anthony Principi and James Peake, all of whom served under George W. Bush and who are no friends to veterans and their families.
"A Romney presidency would be a disaster for veterans, as evidenced by whom he's chosen to advise him," says Patrick Bellon, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a veterans' advocacy organization. "I think these choices should give all Americans pause. How can voters support a candidate who is showing so clearly that he learned nothing from Bush's failures? It would be a mistake to trust people like Nicholson who failed veterans in such epic fashion."
It was during these three men's running of the VA that the huge claims backlog began, that returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan were denied treatment and benefits by a system that had not been geared up by Bush's, now Romney's, choices to run the VA. A senior VA manager said this to Newsweek in a devastating report on the inadequacies of the VA due to Bush administration intransigence about dealing with the extraordinary number of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who needed healthcare and compensation: "[Nicholson is] a political appointee and he needs to respond to the White House's direction." Steve Robinson of Veterans for America leveled the accusation more directly. "Why doesn't the VA have a projection of casualties for the wars? Because it would be a political bombshell for Nicholson to estimate so many casualties." Nicholson was eventually forced to defend the Bush administration's handling of people injured in battle after revelations of shoddy health care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and resigned as head of the VA.
Then there's Principi. On March 29, 2008, The Los Angeles Times reported that, "The California company headed by former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi overcharged the agency some $6 million under a long-term contract to conduct physical evaluations on veterans applying for disability benefits" in a recent government audit . As for Peake, just prior to his nomination as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, he served as Chief Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer for QTC, one of the largest private providers of government-outsourced occupational health and disability examination services in the nation. QTC is the company that defrauded the VA and was headed by Principi. I couldn't care less that all three of these men are decorated Vietnam combat veterans because, apparently, their experiences leading men in combat, largely men from working class and poor families, did not make them our true advocates and care-providers while they were running the VA.
And then there's this. According to a July 2012 story in The Daily Beast , a highly respected conservative blog,
"Last fall at a Veterans Day meeting with veterans in South
Carolina, [Romney] said he thought that privatizing the VA might be a good
At the meeting, Romney reportedly said, 'Sometimes you wonder, would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know, each soldier gets X-thousand dollars attributed to them and then they can choose whether they want to go on the government system or the private system and then it follows them, like what happens with schools in Florida where they have a voucher that follows them. Who knows?'
Veterans organizations--even the typically conservative Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)--lashed out at Romney's privatization idea. VFW spokesman Jerry Newberry told Talking Points Memo at the time, 'The VFW doesn't support privatization of veterans health care. This is an issue that seems to come around every election cycle.'
Let's get back to the GOP, in general, and what veterans and active duty military men and women might expect with a Romney presidency and a Republican controlled Congress. In 2010, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued their "Congressional Report Card." The results say everything you need to know when thinking about who will take care of us and our families and who really cares about veterans and soldiers. In one demented example, Republicans in the House tried to cut the VA budget by $300 million to pay for other domestic programs. It failed by an 84-348-5 vote. All 84 votes in favor were from Republicans. In the Senate version, 38 Republicans voted to cut the VA budget. The Report Card gave the House members a possible 18 points and Senators could get a possible 12 points. An 18 in the House was an A+ and anything 9 and lower was an F. In the Senate 12 was an A+ and anything below 4 was an F. In analyzing the IAVA Report Card, here is what I found. In the House there were 23 Fs--19 were Republicans, 4 were Democrats. There were 98 Ds--93 Republicans, 5 Democrats. There were 19 A+--all were Democrats. There were 66 As--61 Democrats, 5 Republicans. The Senate was worse. There were 3 Fs--all Republicans. There were 30 Ds--29 Republicans, 1 Democrat. There was one A+, a Democrat, and 8 As, all Democrats. If there is any question about which party is our advocate, the IAVA Report Card is all we need to know.
To me, when it comes to veterans, this says it all: as governor,
Romney twice rejected a pardon for Anthony Circosta, who at age 13 was convicted
of assault for shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun - a shot that
didn't break the skin. Circosta worked his way through college, joined the Army
National Guard and led a platoon of 20 soldiers in Iraq's deadly Sunni
triangle. In 2005, as he was serving in Iraq, he sought a pardon to fulfill his
dream of becoming a police officer. Romney helped deny that dream. And, oh, by
the way, according to the Associated Press, Mitt Romney said, in April 2007, that
catching bin Laden would be "insignificant" and it's "not worth
moving heaven and earth." Tell that to the families of the 6,611 men and
women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the families of those killed on 9/11.