October 15, 2018




The Legacy of John McCain Grows with Every Day

His Memory an Inspiration for Grateful Americans

The Center for American Homeless Veterans (CAHV) has been an advocate for programs that support veterans, especially homeless veterans, for over 25 years. CAHV has also educated the public about champions for veterans and their accomplishments in office. What does military service bring to the Congress? What should a grateful nation look for when seeking the real supporters of veterans?

Along with millions of other grateful Americans, I had the honor of meeting Senator John McCain. I am blessed to have met him quite a few times, in Arizona, Washington, D.C. and in Columbia, South Carolina.

I was at a backyard barbeque in the suburbs of Phoenix in 1982 when John McCain came by and met us all. He was running in a four-person primary for the House of Representatives. He won, of course, but how? He was an underdog, but won through retail politicking, aiming to shake 1,000 hands a day.

Back in the mid-80s, military balls seemed to be far more prevalent than they are now. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Air Force veterans donned their dress uniforms to honor veterans. He was there for every event I attended. However, if memory serves, he did not flaunt his service; he wore regular suits.

I am also a Vietnam Veteran. In 1991, I ran a consulting firm that raised funds for a Vietnam Veteran client in support of their veterans’ programs. We recruited Members of Congress to attend meetings on the Hill, receive a briefing, get program materials, and raise money from corporations for the cause.

You cannot do that anymore; there are too many rules. But there, they gathered around me for the briefing of Congressmen Sam Johnson of Texas, Pete Peterson of Florida, and Lane Evans of Indiana, along with a dozen other Members. The meetings were on the House side of the U.S. Capitol; no Senators were expected.

John McCain: A Veteran Who Showed Up for Vets

There was an empty chair next to me at the first key meeting. Ten minutes into the meeting, Senator John McCain sat down next to me to “pitch in” for fellow veterans. Wow! This is not something that one would forget.

A numbers of years later, I was on the National Mall for an anniversary memorial for the fire and tragedy on the USS Forrestal. Navy pilot, John McCain, had been in a plane on the runway when the explosion took place; he was lucky to have escaped alive. He had one aide with him that day when our paths crossed.

We had a conversation about having felt fortunate to serve, and the honor that came with serving.

Again, I met him in 2007 in Columbia, South Carolina. He was running for the GOP nomination for president again. He had been written off; no money, no chance, they said. The occasion was a Roast for Congressman Joe Wilson. Lindsey Graham was of course there.

There was a big audience as South Carolina was a key primary state. He barely spoke at all; his speech was so short it shocked me. Why is he not giving a campaign speech I thought? But what did I know? John McCain made the appearance to honor a fellow veteran, not to bask in the spotlight.

This country was obviously blessed to have had John McCain; there will never be another one like him. We are also blessed that veterans still hear the clarion call to duty and grateful citizens elect them.

By The Numbers: Veterans in Congress

Since the Vietnam War, we have seen a decrease in veterans serving in Congress, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016. There was a peak in veteran Members of Congress following the Korean War, but the number has declined significantly since then. 

A recent report by the Congressional Research Service indicated that 18% of the 115th Congress are Members who are veterans, a total of 102 Members between the House and the Senate. This includes those who served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and combat or peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo. 

Over the past two decades, this country has seen an influx in student veterans on college campuses using the GI Bill. Having student veterans on campus assimilating with civilian students changes both of their lives. They learn from one another and see different perspectives inside the classroom. Veterans account for 1% of the population; the rest are the other 99%.

If there were more veterans in Congress, maybe there would be more comity, mutual respect, and more willingness to work across the aisle. Virtually all of the veterans in Congress are notable, but highlighted below are just a few. 

Notable Veterans in the House of Representatives

Brian Mast (FL-R) enlisted in the Army and deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan. After an IED explosion, he required a double amputation of his legs. He campaigned in 2016 on a platform of reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Another notable Member is Jimmy Panetta (CA-D). He was commissioned as a Naval intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves and was on active duty with special operations in Afghanistan. In September this year, he introduced a new bill, The Veterans Resource Center Act, to support veteran students. 

Veterans in the Senate

One of the most notable Senators is Tammy Duckworth (IL-D). Senator Duckworth was a former Army Lieutenant colonel and former assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs in the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2009-2011. During her tour, she was an Army helicopter pilot and suffered injuries resulting in the loss of both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm.

Call to Action for Voters in the USA

The forerunner to the Center for American Homeless Veterans was established over 25 years. Though politics is not at all our primary mission, we have learned a thing or two about Members of Congress and their platforms in those years.

One fact we learned over and over is that the veterans in Congress are not necessarily the biggest supporters of veterans when they get into Congress. The facts are counterintuitive; sometimes the strongest champions are those who did not serve.

Certainly, voters should give those who served in military uniform special consideration. However, some veteran Members do not want to make it a major cause; they certainly paid their dues.

The Citizens’ One Minute Test

How does one determine the level of importance that a candidate gives to veterans issues? The answer is surprisingly easy and often accurate. Look at their websites. How much is devoted to veterans? Two pages? One page? One line? Nothing? A surprising number of candidates have no information on their sites about veterans, a sure sign veterans are not a top priority.

These campaign websites are always easy to find. One can just search online for “[Enter Candidate’s Name] for Congress or Senate.” Then, click on their website to see where they stand on veterans’ issues.

Veteran candidate or not, it’s time to Put Veterans First!

The Center for American Homeless Veterans is a national nonprofit organization that fulfills its mission by advocating to the public and Congress about the needs and solutions for American Veterans, with an emphasis on those left behind, such as homeless and disabled veterans.  By molding public opinion, CAHV helps shape public policy.