Some military veterans oppose Mitt Romney's plan for benefits
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08/15/12 Janelle Irwin
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In Pinellas County, veterans criticize Mitt Romney for going to Paris instead of Vietnam.


photo by Janelle Irwin

A group of Veterans from across the state and country spoke out for the first time against the presumptive Republican nominee at the Bay Pines Veteran’s Administration building in St. Petersburg this morning. About a dozen people waved flags and signs to let passing motorists know that Mitt Romney wants to change the way past and current service members get care. Ken Woods, president of the Tampa Bay area Teamsters union said the plan to make veterans use vouchers to get medical care will make it harder to get.

“If we took care of the government by being in the service, we think the government ought to take care of us. We don’t think we have to give it to some enterprise to try to make a profit and get less medical in return for it because that’s what it’s going to turn into. It’s all about creating a dollar for these private enterprises so we feel it should stay where it’s at.”

Romney has said the Department of Veteran’s Affairs is too bureaucratic and a voucher program where veterans could chose how and where to use their benefits would give them more options. But this group of opponents disagrees.

“Well, that would be the kiss of death to this exquisitely efficient and effective medical treatment facility that we call the Veteran’s Administration.”

That was Dennis Plews, a Vietnam combat veteran. He explained that it’s not just about putting tax dollars into the hands of private, for-profit companies – it’s about sending injured soldiers and veterans with health care needs to the right place.

“You don’t find that in your local community hospital or your trauma center. They’re not dealing with somebody that’s been hit with three or four IEDs on the road to the airport so to speak.”

But the question of whether or not to privatize all or part of the VA hasn’t come up in a while. This weekend Romney announced member of Congress Paul Ryan as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election. Ryan is best known for his proposed budget. Skip Roberts, a retired Marine with the Vietnam Veterans of America, said that budget talks about turning Medicare into a voucher program. But,

“In the 98 pages of their budget they don’t even mention Veteran’s Affairs.”

Roberts wants whoever is elected – even if it’s Romney – to put more focus on veterans and active service members because it’s becoming an increasing need.

“Guys and Gals have done two, three, four deployments, on what that does to somebody – there have been such great medical advances so people who used to die in the battle field now are alive.”

But the looming prospect of privatizing the Department of Veteran’s Affairs isn’t the only concern. Roberts ignored the sweat pouring down his temples to wave a caricature of Mitt Romney in a beret hugging the Eifel tower. He said while American men were being drafted to fight in Vietnam, Romney ran off to Paris.

“He was what we call a chicken hawk because three months before he ran off to Paris he was demonstrating at Stanford University in favor of the war and against people who had doubts on it and then took years of multiple deferments and it sort of, you know, it’s a little hollow.”

Romney never served in the military. Neither did any of his five sons. Wardell Norman, a retired Army veteran, said that leaves him out of touch with constituents who have and unqualified to be the military’s commander-in-chief.

“How can I lead the great army that we have – the military that we have – if I hadn’t served or had any of my family member serve? How could I? What image would that portray?”

The group doesn’t want Romney to be their president, but because it’s a non-partisan effort, they’re also not endorsing any other candidate. But Dennis Plews, the retired Vietnam combat vet, said historically Republicans haven’t done much to help people in the military.

“Also, we’ve watched the VA under Republican administrations literally abuse returning veterans. For example, during the end of the Vietnam war we had a Republican president and returning veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury were just told, ‘there’s nothing wrong with you, get out of here’ basically.”

Harvey Gochberg, secretary of the Florida Veterans for Common Sense, just doesn’t like Romney at all. His latest beef? Romney won’t produce his tax documents. Gochberg said if he’s not paying enough taxes, it means he’s not paying the taxes that send people to war.

“It pisses me off that this is a man who thinks that he can run and become president of the United States and still not tell people what kind of people he paid over the last ten years. There isn’t anybody who would do that.”

The group organized today’s protest in under three days. Now they’re planning to continue similar demonstrations across Florida and in other key political areas across the country.

The Romney campaign did not respond to interview requests before deadline.



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