Retirees demand restoration of promised health care benefit

From: "Bruce K. Melson" <>

Subject: Retirees demand restoration of promised health care benefits
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2000 19:52:11 -0500
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The following article appears in the 8 Aug 2000 Wichita Falls, Texas

Times Record News, City/Region section page 4A.


Veterans declare war on the government

by Lynda Stringer


Retirees demand restoration of promised health care benefits


    Veterans have declared war to restore free health care benefits they

say they were promised and the front line is a little closer to home.

    A billboard campaign, which brings attention to the broken promises

and issues a call to arms for veterans to contact lawmakers, has moved

to Fort Worth, making it the third in Texas and fifth in the nation.

    "We're getting stronger and stronger," said Ward Coston, president

of the Retirees Coalition and The Retired Enlisted Association.

    But the battle is being waged by only a fraction of the retired

veterans who are being cheated out of free health care, Wichita Falls,

TREA vice president Terry Reed said.

    "The few of us who are carrying the load are charging up a hill with

no other troops behind us," he said.

    More than 100 veterans turned out for the billboard's unveiling,

including vets from North Texas and Southern Oklahoma, as well as form

Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

    The billboards -- which depict four aging military vets with the

caption: "Military Retirees Fought For Freedom, Now Congress Denies

Earned Health Care" -- is the latest weapon in a battle to call the

government's hand on the promise made to those who served 20 years


    Paul Miller of Wichita Falls, a retired Army sergeant who spent 27

years in the military before being medically discharged in 1998, said

the billboard is great.

    "The government needs to wake up and smell the roses. We do vote, ya

know, and we're a large number." he said.

    Miller, the commander of the Military Order of Purple Heart Chapter

618, saw the same billboard on a trip to San Antonio recently.

    A similar billboard that can be seen from the Pentagon in

Washington, D.C., reportedly has Defense Secretary William Cohen in an

uproar. Its caption reads "If You Think You Want To Make The Military A

Career, Think Again."

    "He thinks we're sabotaging his recruiting efforts," Miller said,

"It tickles me to death that someone finally sees the light, although he

probably won't do anything about it."

    The billboards are now up in Virginia, Washington, D.C., El Paso,

San Antonio and Fort Worth. Two more are in the works for Oklahoma City

and San Diego, while plans are to have the billboards -- at $8,000 a

piece -- erected in every major city in the nation by the end of the


    Coston, who has spearheaded the nationwide "Operation Healthcare"

through a network of e-mail and letter-writing, is wielding this latest

weapon like the commander of an armored division spearheading an attack.

    "I advocate using any weapon as long as it's legal -- and by weapon,

I mean legislatively, written or visual -- against anyone that is not

supportive of health care for military retirees," Coston said. "I would

never raise my hand against the government, though, I fought three times

for the government. I would raise my hand against people in the

government," he said.

    Meanwhile, the legislative battle is still stuck in a House-Senate

conference committee as lawmakers hammer out a compromise defense budget

that includes provisions for improved health care for retirees, but not

the free health care they want.

    "We would like to see our bills in congress go before the full House

and Senate standing on their own merit and not tied to any other bill,"

Coston said.

    Coston said the current legislation, which is part of the Fiscal

2000 Defense Authorization Bill, could be in danger with President

Clinton holding the authorizing pen. Veterans feel Vice President Al

Gore would be no different and are encouraging veterans to support Texas

Gov. George W. Bush for president through a veterans network on the

Internet, he said.

    Reed has received a letter from Bush that he forwarded to everyone

on the network. "We believe you are headed in the right direction with

regard to veterans healthcare," Reed wrote the governor.

    "He (Bush) didn't come right out and say he would support us 100

percent," Coston said. "We'd love for him to say that, but he did say he

supported reconstruction of the military and the health care system," he


    Coston and Reed are recruiting more foot soldiers to take up arms in

their health care war. "I'll take as many calls as I can get," Coston



A sidebar also appeared in this article "More Information"

    For more information about the veterans efforts, contact Ward Coston

at 692-4216.

    For information on the billboard campaign, or to make donations,

e-mail Jack Hollisnworth at


Lynda Stringer can be reached at