A veteran’s concern isn’t so much different from a non-veteran’s.  We all want appropriate and effective physical and mental health care, affordable prescriptions, a good education, and enough money to live a decent life with dignity and respect.

Politicians are always flowery in their praise of veterans on Veterans Day and when speaking in front of veterans organizations.  I allow speeches to inspire me or repulse me, but I no longer take speeches as proof of anything.

So how can we blow away some of this fog from political rhetoric, and get to the truth of the matter?

There are three areas you should get to know.

#1.  Issues.

What matters to you the most? For example, I have a passion for veterans, the environment and “women’s” issues (which are humanity issues and not gender ones, but that’s another story).  I also care deeply about good health care for everyone; an economy that allows each family to live the American Dream of being financially secure in owning a home; treating workers with respect through good pay, a safe and positive environment and job security; a competitive and kick-butt education for our children; gracious international diplomacy; immigration laws that require earning US citizenship; English as our first language in business and on signs; a national response of outcry and help to those suffering under tyrannical rulers, poverty or genocide.  Etc., etc., etc.

Think about what really matters to you, and then prioritize them.  It may not be easy, but once you prioritize, the rest is easy.

#2.  Voting records.

Talk is cheap, especially to a politician.  It is no longer sufficient to hear what a candidate says about what matters and what (s)he will make a priority.  You have to know for certain if the politician is actually voting in support of what (s)he claims is important.

Project Vote Smart (http://www.votesmart.org) gives you the voting record of a candidate.  You can search candidates by position and state.  And, you can check on how your candidate voted on what issues are important to you.  The Washington Post also has a database of key votes and missed votes for each candidate, and state legislators. It also has a table for how often they voted with their party.  (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/)

Who are the presidential candidates, your congressional delegates, and your state legislative candidates?

In addition to Project Vote Smart, state government web sites offer good election information.  For national elections, this, too, is a helpful web site: http://congress.org/election/home/.

In checking into a specific candidate’s voting records on the Project Vote Smart web site, I was able to scroll until I found “veterans issues,” and then clicked on that.  It took me to a list of past legislation on veterans’ issues.

To my utter horror, I discovered that most candidates lie about supporting veterans, and in fact vote against funding for their health care, education and financial security.

#3.  Special interest groups.

When you consider your top three issues, are there any groups that support your issues?  Do the organizations endorse candidates or rate them?  These endorsements and ratings should not be your end-all and be-all for your choice of candidate, but they are extremely helpful in alerting you to discrepancies in the candidate, or clarifying for yourself how strongly you feel stand on a particular issue.

Project Vote Smart also lists “interest group ratings.”  You can click on that link and check on the rating given to the candidate from:

Vietnam Veterans of America

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

The Disabled American Veterans

The Retired Enlisted Association

The American Legion

My family has been directly impacted by combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and too many of my veteran friends suffer from it.  Judging from an April 2008 report issued from RAND Corporation (a nonprofit research organization), a great many more families and friends will be impacted by combat-related PTSD.

The report confirmed that, “one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans currently suffer from PTSD or major depression.”  According to Terri Tanielian, the project’s co-leader and a researcher, “There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

RAND further said, “Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation.”

A 2007 white paper by Dr. Richard McCormick presented to Stand Up For Veterans, an advocacy campaign of the Disabled American Veterans, repeated this concern.  In studying psychological problems of veterans, Dr. McCormick stated, “These psychological …problems that threaten the well being of reservist/veterans and their families are NOW, and growing.  Immediate action is critical.”

A July 2007 study conducted by the Disabled American Veterans organization on the demographic distribution of the U.S. population, military and estimated injuries declared, “The Pentagon estimates that at present 219,000 troops are serving, and of those, 29,000 are Reserve/National Guard.  Estimates for injuries and potential injuries are about 20,000, or about 10%.  However, another source disputes this.  The military estimates are based on the definition of injuries as combat only.  Global Security estimates that all injuries are closer to 30,000 or possibly as high as 50,000.”  The study came to a sobering conclusion.  “Based on these projections, within the near future the care of injured service men and women will have to accommodate nearly 30,000 people in various geographic locations in the country. Not surprisingly, the largest numbers of treatments must be in California, Texas, Florida and Virginia.  These projections may change depending on the circumstances of overseas deployment.  But the immediate attention ought to be paid to the areas of most need in the U.S. for care and treatment of the wounded warriors.”

It isn’t as if taking care of our veterans’ physical and mental health cannot be done.  In a testimony presented before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on June 11, 2008, the RAND institution concluded that “Delivery of such care to all veterans with PTSD or major depression would pay for itself within two years, or even save money, by improving productivity and reducing medical and mortality costs. Such care may also be a cost-effective way to retain a ready and healthy military force for the future. However, to ensure that this care is delivered requires system-level changes across the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. health care system.”

Sadly, funding health care for our worthy veterans is not discussed in our Congress very often.  With few opportunities per year to vote in support of our veterans, one would think voting yes to fund their health care would be a no-brainer for legislators, especially when that is all they talk about doing.

Your vote does matter.  Case in point:  When a colleague of mine ran for mayor the first time, I was a judge at the election polls.  I had to stay after the polls closed and verify the count of the votes.  There were two precincts represented at the voting spot, and when the combined final count was done, my colleague won the two precincts by one vote.  I called and left a message for him that he won because of ME!! And then I took a bow.

Voting is important because it is yours by law.  This country needs the intelligence, balance and spirituality of its well-informed voters, especially those who are veterans.

Voting may not be the solution to anything by itself…but it is definitely a step towards one.

—- ©  St. John 2008