Veterans group’s tactics offensive

 

Tom Philpott

Military Update

This month marks 20 years of writing Military Update.

I’ve used it three times to editorialize about news events, including President Clinton’s sex scandal while commander in chief and President George W. Bush’s worrisome plan to invade

Iraq a month before it happened.

This week I do so again to shed light on a disturbing new force that is confusing veterans and darkening attacks on the Department of Veterans Affairs during the current health appointments scandal.

I refer to a well-funded group called Concerned Veterans for America (CVA).

So far one major veterans’ organization, The American Legion, has called on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, following a CNN report that 40 veterans might have died awaiting VA health care in Phoenix where appointment dates perhaps were fudged to make wait times look shorter.


I can’t claim to have covered VA medical appointments and wait times with enough depth or regularity to know if there’s gross mismanagement and deceptive bookkeeping at some or many VA facilities. That will be verified, or not, by independent audits and criminal investigations now under way.

Most veterans’ groups continue to support Shinseki. They say they know him well enough to believe he’ll address any abuses uncovered and will work to protect more veterans from harm. And we’ll see.

But in my 37 years covering veterans’ issues, I have never seen veteran issues used more cynically or politicized more thoroughly than during the past several years. At times the intent seems to be to shake trust in government generally rather than to address veterans’ needs.


In the thick of this is Concerned Veterans for America, posing as a vet advocacy group and being rewarded for it. CVA press releases usually are partisan attacks. Its spokesman, Pete

Hegseth, an Iraq war vet and Republican who ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012, is quoted often by major news outlets without mention of press reports associating CVA with the Koch brothers, libertarian billionaires who create public interest groups to oppose big government.

That’s fine. That’s protected speech.

A CVA spokesman told me last year it won’t reveal donor information.

What should upset vets is the use of select facts about VA and its programs to reinforce fears rather than give reliable information. Last week a CVA press release hit a new low in purporting to document “lies” Shinseki told in congressional testimony, dropping any veil of respect for a decorated, combat-disabled soldier with a long and stellar career.


It is no coincidence only Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida and Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina participate in CVA events. They should reconsider.

Though CVA sponsors an occasional informative forum in Washington, D.C., it produces no careful analyses of what ails VA. The goal seems to be to attack, relentlessly, while a Democrat holds the White House.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:

[email protected]

 
 

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