Aside from the fact that Mike Huckabee had a very good weekend, followed by a so-so showing in the "Potomac primaries" and still can look forward to an upswing in delegates if he wins Texas, and if you can forget for a moment that Mitt Romney has a solid block of unreleased delegates, then the three so-called frontrunners in the race for the presidential nomination are all US Senators.
If you can hack through the rhetoric, you will find the occasional "If I am elected ... " promise. If you can hack through the next layer of rhetoric you should be able to find what the candidates plan to do on issues such as immigration and veterans' care and benefits.
My question to the three senators is Why Wait? We have three people locked in desperate struggles to get the nomination to run as their party's candidate for the next leader of the United States of America, all three currently in positions of power and influence in the US Senate, and all we can get is "Wait and see what I'll do!?"
How about all three of you get off the dime and do it now? How about some real initiatives to close the southern border, stop throwing border guards in jail for paperwork foul-ups, let them shoot at invaders who are shooting at them, stoning them and flinging Molotov cocktails at them? How about we spend as much money securing our border as we are sending to Mexico to secure its southern border?
While we're on the subject, have any of the esteemed presidential candidates spent any time this week, or plan to, at the hearings held by the Joint Senate Armed Services/Veterans Affairs Committees?
The first one was on Tuesday at the Hart Senate Office Building where there was testimony on Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs improvements - done or in the pipeline - relating to the care of wounded and ill service members.
Also, coming Friday, beginning at 10 a.m. - at the Rayburn House Office Building, the Military Personnel Subcommittee will hear testimony on the Army's medical action plan and other services' support for wounded service members.
The press was making a big deal of John McCain and Barack Obama shaking hands on the floor of the Senate Tuesday, supposedly a preview of our presidential candidates. But did either of them make it to the hearing in the Hart building? Did they listen to testimony, or take notes, or just stop by to let everyone know veterans are high on their list of priorities?
If they have time to schmooze for the cameras, they should have time to stay up on veterans' issues, and immigration issues.
Between the aging Vietnam and Korean War generations, the unanswered questions stemming from Gulf War service, and the immediate needs of both physical injuries and combat stress from the ongoing War on Terror there is no end to issues concerning veterans.
So much so that for the casual observer, these issues can be overwhelming. Fortunately, I have help from two experts, Lt. Col. Charles Revie, a Vietnam veteran who is retired from the US Army with a 100 percent service-connected disability from Agent Orange exposure. Charlie is the Legislative Director for Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees, which represents hundreds of thousands of disabled military retirees. Web site: http://usdr.org
He in turn informed me of the work of Michael Parker, also a retired Army Lt.Col., whose work is best described in his own words as "a very active advocate trying to fix the Defense Disability Evaluation System."
In the recent past, Michael has assisted and filed briefs with the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission, The Dole/Shalala Commission, The Independent Review Group, The DoD, the military services, the Veteran's Administration and numerous veterans' service organizations.
Michael noted in a brief concerning this weeks hearings that "While much progress has been made on fixing the Defense Disability Evaluation System, much work remains."
Among the issues Michael and many other veterans believe should be reviewed are:
1. DoD/Congress must stop the Department of the Navy's practice of administratively separating individuals due to service connected disability. The Navy (evaluation boards) are finding members fit for duty despite the severity of their service connected disabilities. These members' commands are then administratively separating them because their disabilities prevent them from performing their duties in all operational environments. This procedure ends up avoiding the payment of legally due disability benefits.
2. DoD/Congress must allow service members who have been medical discharged access to the Discharge Review Board to seek relief.
3. Ensure all service members with qualifying medical conditions are evaluated by the DES (Disability Evaluation System) to determine their fitness and disability benefits due. Many service members, (especially activated Guard and Reserve members), with qualifying disabilities, are being discharged from active duty without being evaluated by the disability evaluation system. This is a violation of DoD policy and results in members being denied legally due disability benefits.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on veterans' issues that are affecting our active duty service members and retirees. Once again, and as often as necessary, veterans are the only classification of Americans who put so much on the line for so little, and could die or be seriously injured in the course of their duties. Taking care of those who are no longer able to serve and those who have retired should be a no-brainer for our elected officials and the federal bureaucracy.
So, how hard do you think it should be to get something done DURING the campaign, instead of just making promises that will be forgotten once the votes are counted?
Maybe we should make a list of interim goals that can and should be reached by Congress before the end of the summer. Then we can seriously evaluate the input from all the candidates, but especially the two who are left standing.
That would certainly be an objective method to determine who is really working and who is just talking.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008