VetNews Digest from The National Veterans
Organization -- Sept 25, 2000
--- Gulf War syndrome may lead to Parkinson's
--- Crews sought in 1960s chemical tests
--- Conflicting views exchanged on WWII memorial
--- Group: Labor Official Made Threat
--- House OKs Pay Raise for VA Nurses
--- Veterans Affairs Computers At Risk
--- Judge Dismisses Slave Labor Cases
--- Ex-Doctor Charged in Patient Slaying
--- WWII vets get chance to see Cronkite
--- Official charged in record altering
--- Veterans hope to wield ballot-box clout
Gulf War syndrome may lead to Parkinson's
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Brain scans of
veterans who became sick after serving in the
Gulf War suggest that there may be a link
between damage on the left side of the brain and
the abnormal production of high levels of the
neurotransmitter dopamine, a message-carrying
The results of the study suggest that the
symptoms of Gulf War syndrome--such as
depression, personality changes, body pain,
diarrhea and memory problems--may have a
neurological cause, rather than simply being
signs of post-traumatic stress disorder,
In fact, Gulf War syndrome may be more serious
than previously thought, the study's lead
author, Dr. Robert W. Haley, of the University
of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, told
Reuters Health. Based on the type of brain
damage and abnormal levels of dopamine, Haley
predicts that some of the veterans who have Gulf
War syndrome in their 20s and 30s may develop
Parkinson's disease in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
``This is a warning that Gulf War syndrome may
be a very serious injury,'' he said in an
interview. ``It really appears to be an injury
that affects brain function.''
Earlier this year, Haley and his colleagues
reported that a sample of sick Gulf War veterans
had fewer cells in the brain stem and in a brain
region called the basal ganglia than healthy
veterans did. Previous research suggests that
this damage may have been caused by exposure to
chemical nerve agents during the war, the
authors note in the September issue of the
Archives of Neurology.
In the current study, investigators used a
relatively new imaging technique called magnetic
resonance spectroscopy, which measures chemical
levels in the brain, to detect brain damage in
27 members of a Naval reserve unit.
Twenty reservists had served in the Gulf War,
including 12 who became sick after returning to
the United States. Seven healthy reservists did
not serve in the Gulf War. Dopamine levels were
measured indirectly using laboratory tests that
detect breakdown products of the chemical.
Based on these measures, Haley's team reports a
link between damage to the basal ganglia and
abnormally high levels of dopamine. Levels of
the neurotransmitter were highest in veterans
with the most extensive damage to this brain
region. It appears that when dopamine damaged
cells are destroyed, surviving cells
overcompensate by making too much of the
chemical, according to Haley.
How long this overproduction of dopamine lasts
is unknown, Haley said in his comments to
Reuters Health. Eventually, these cells may die
off, causing dopamine production to drop, Haley
suggested. This could lead to the development of
neurological diseases like Parkinson's, he
The good news, Haley said, is that ``we may have
10 to 15 years of a grace period'' before
veterans begin developing Parkinson's. With
enough funding for neurological research, it may
be possible to develop drugs to prevent or slow
the development of the disease, the Texas
researcher pointed out.
Haley and his colleagues would like to conduct a
national survey of Gulf War veterans to see how
many have symptoms of Gulf War syndrome.
Studying a larger group of people with the
symptoms would also give researchers a chance to
verify the findings of the current study, which
may not be typical of all veterans with Gulf War
But the researchers' requests for government
funding for the survey has been turned down
twice already, Haley noted.
The study provides the first ``formidable
evidence'' that symptoms of the Gulf War
syndrome may have neurological causes, according
to Dr. Roger N. Rosenberg, the chief editor of
the Archives of Neurology.
The findings ``are a major advance in defining
the neurological basis and cause of this
perplexing and elusive complex of symptoms and
findings,'' he writes in an accompanying
editorial. Rosenberg notes that the report
points the way towards potential drug treatment
for Gulf War syndrome.
Crews sought in 1960s chemical tests
By Robert Burns, Associated Press, 9/22/2000
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has agreed to search
its records for the names of ships and crew
members who participated in exercises in the
1960s designed to test ships' ability to
withstand attacks from chemical and biological
The Pentagon notified US Representative Mike
Thompson, Democrat of California, of the
decision last week, following a request by the
Department of Veterans Affairs in August to
provide information that could help the
department process claims filed by veterans who
believe they suffered health damage from their
participation in the tests.
The decision to provide the names and other
information was first reported Wednesday by CBS
The fact that the exercises were held was known
previously, although the work originally was
classified as secret.
The tests were among 113 conducted as part of a
project called SHAD, or Shipboard Hazard and
Defense. Some apparently involved the use of
chemical and biological agents, although the
Pentagon said the two of interest to the
Department of Veterans Affairs used simulants
rather than actual chemical or biological
In a letter dated Aug. 23, Army Major General
Joseph M. Cosumano told the Department of
Veterans Affairs that both simulants in
exercises dubbed Autumn Gold in 1963 and
Copperhead in 1965 ''are considered by the
medical community to not pose a health risk to
man.'' He said that all participants were
briefed in advance on the details of the
CBS News, however, interviewed Navy veterans who
said they were given no information about the
materials used in the tests. One veteran, Robert
Bates, whose ship was part of the Autumn Gold
test, told CBS earlier this year, ''there were
people with chemical suits on the ship with some
kind of apparatus apparently monitoring what was
going on. They wouldn't talk to you. You'd try
to carry on a conversation, try to find out what
was going on, they just flat ignored you. It
always bothered me.''
The two simulants used were bacillus globigii
and zinc cadmimum sulfide, which is a
fluorescent powder. Bacillus globigii is found
in soils and on root vegetables such as potatoes
and carrots. Los Alamos National Laboratory said
last year when preparing to use bacillus
globigii in outdoor tests of detectors for
airborne biological agents that the simulant is
harmless to humans, except the extremely ill.
Conflicting views exchanged on World War II
Friday, September 22, 2000
By CARL HARTMAN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- A World War II memorial proposed
for the National Mall was denounced Thursday as
a "confused set of half-baked notions" at a
National Capital Planning Commission hearing.
But countering the objections of Rep. Eleanor
Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's
delegate, were two World War II veterans, former
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Sen. Daniel
K. Inouye, D-Hawaii.
"I'm a good friend of Eleanor's, but we just
happen to have a disagreement here," Dole said.
"We'll try to lay it out and let the commission
decide, and that's what World War II was all
about -- so we could have freedom of expression
and have different views."
Dole urged approval of the design so there could
be a groundbreaking on Veterans Day.
President Clinton has dedicated a site between
the Washington Monument and the Lincoln
Memorial. But opponents argue that the new
memorial would interfere with the vista between
The memorial would sit at the head of the
Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln
Memorial, with 56 pillars and two large rainbow-
shaped pools surrounding a sunken plaza.
Two fountains would send jets of water, and wind
sensors able to reduce the flow would protect
visitors from the spray. A wall of gold stars
would represent veterans killed in the war.
"Who would history blame for the unspeakably
confused set of half-baked notions before you
that pass for a memorial, while displaying at
once a warped sense of the nation's history and
marring the simple vow of our noble World War II
veterans?" Norton said.
Dole has led a campaign that has raised nearly
$140 million for the new monument. Another
veteran who helped in that effort was Sen. Bob
Kerrey, D-Neb., who was awarded the Medal of
Honor for bravery in Vietnam.
Recalling that Kerrey had once criticized the
design, Dole said he told the Nebraska senator,
"You know, Bob, I'm not the architect. I agreed
to help raise the money."
Architect Friedrich St. Florian said the
monument's central sculpture by Ray Kasky is "a
work of art still in progress" and he did not
know when the design would be ready.
He told the commission that it would be no more
than 15 feet high and would not interfere with
views of either the Lincoln Memorial or the
Meanwhile, plans were announced Thursday for an
education center aimed at adding context to the
58,220 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
But supporters doubt legislation authorizing it
will pass Congress this term, in part because
the World War II memorial and a proposal to
honor President Ronald Reagan may crowd it out.
Copyright (c) 2000 Bergen Record Corp.
Group: Labor Official Made Threat
By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The director of a homeless
veterans coalition has alleged to Labor
Department investigators that a top agency
official threatened to withhold grant money
because of differences over veterans
legislation, people familiar with the
The grant was recently rejected.
The allegations by Linda Boone, executive
director of the National Coalition for Homeless
Veterans, were investigated by department
lawyers and Secretary Alexis Herman has
concluded no laws were broken.
The official in question, Assistant Secretary
Espiridion Borrego, denies making the comment to
Boone, officials said.
But a member of Congress wants the allegations
to be reviewed by the department's independent
watchdog, the inspector general.
``I am very concerned about these allegations of
intimidation and coercion by an administration
official which appear aimed at influencing the
outcome of VA committee legislation,'' said Rep.
Terry Everett, R-Ala., chairman of the House
Veterans Affairs investigations subcommittee
Boone's allegations mark the second time in
recent months an advocate for homeless veterans
has accused Borrego of exerting pressure
concerning a bill to provide job counseling,
education and training to veterans.
Heather French, the reigning Miss America, and
two House members complained in July that
Borrego improperly tried to persuade French to
change her congressional testimony supporting
the same bill.
French, the daughter of a Marine veteran who was
wounded in Vietnam, has made homeless veterans
her cause and testified several times before
Congress about their plight.
Boone alleged to Labor investigators that in a
meeting last March, Borrego told her he would
find it very difficult to provide grant money to
her coalition if it continued to support job
counseling provisions in the legislation that he
opposed, according to government and non-
government sources familiar with the interview.
The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Borrego, who oversees veterans employment and
training, ``flatly denies'' making the comment,
Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio said.
Fillichio declined, however, to provide
interview notes from the investigation. ``We
feel it is inappropriate to discuss specific
details of the interviews,'' he said.
On Sept. 13, the department rejected a request
from Boone's coalition for a $121,277 grant to
assist community groups serving homeless
The department's letter said ``funds available
through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration
Projects (HVRP) for special emphasis programs,
such as the one you propose, are extremely
The agency also said it would ``explore the
possibilities'' and might reconsider Boone's
Regarding the earlier allegations by French,
Herman has said she is confident after an
internal inquiry that ``no laws or regulations
were violated by Mr. Borrego'' in his comments.
Herman's letter did not address Borrego's
conversation with Boone, who was interviewed as
part of the French inquiry.
House OKs Pay Raise for VA Nurses
By JANELLE CARTER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - A bill approved Thursday by
the House to raise the pay of Veterans Affairs
nurses is drawing riticism from the White House
and others for a provision that allows veterans
to get medical care outside of VA hospitals.
The pilot program, which would be tested in four
areas, was included in the bill that passed
It is aimed at veterans who live a considerable
distance from VA medical facilities. Under the
program, the agency would cover ome of the costs
of care and services at non-VA hospitals.
``This is a good bill for veterans,'' said Rep.
Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., chairman of the Veterans
Affairs subcommittee on health. ``It contains
provisions that are innovative, useful and
Opponents fear the new program is the beginning
of changing the way the agency provides health
care to the nation's veterans.
``It turns the Veterans Affairs Administration
into another insurance company instead of a
health care provider,'' said Richard.
Wannemacher Jr., assistant national legislative
director for medical affairs for the Disabled
American Veterans. ``To save money rather than
provide quality health care is a disservice.''
The White House released a statement saying that
while it supports the overall bill, the pilot
program ``would jeopardize VA's ability to
manage veterans' care, undermine the ability of
the VA system to maintain specialized medical
services, and create a disparate eligibility
status. . . This provision should be deleted.''
Still, veterans' groups supporting the program
said it is similar to services the agency
``Any service or any policy or procedure that
will allow the veteran to receive quicker and
more effective treatment . . that can only help
veterans,'' said Len Selfon, veterans benefits
program director for the Vietnam Veterans of
The nurses pay provisions drew little
controversy. For years, nurses pay has been set
by local Veterans Affairs officials based on
The measure would give some 30,000 Veterans
Affairs nurses the same annual pay increase
other federal employees receive.
``VA nurses have waited for fair pay too long,''
said Rep. Lane Evans of Illinois, the ranking
Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Nurses make up the largest portion of the
agency's work force. Dentists also would get an
increase under the measure. The White House is
pushing for a larger increase for dentists.
Veterans Affairs Computers At Risk
By D. IAN HOPPER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Department of Veterans Affairs
computers are wide open to hackers and dishonest
agency workers, putting veterans' medical and
financial information as well as VA funds at
risk, department officials said Thursday.
The VA's top technical officials and their
internal watchdog office told the House Veterans
Affairs' oversight subcommittee that when the
department contracted a security company to see
whether their defenses were enough, the hackers
had no trouble breaking in to the system with
simple tools, taking total control of it.
Michael Slachta Jr., an assistant inspector
general at VA, said that the hackers ``owned the
system,'' while the department didn't even know
its systems were attacked.
To stunned legislators, Slachta testified that
the hackers had access to the confidential data
of veterans, including their personal histories,
and medical and financial information. They
could also get into VA's internal data and
Slachta said the testing was just done on
Veterans Benefits Administration computers, but
the hackers got access to the VA's ``backbone,''
giving them free rein over all of VA's systems,
including the Veterans Health Administration,
which holds sensitive medical records for VA
``I was chagrined at how fast we got in,''
Slachta said in an interview with The Associated
Press. He said he didn't like divulging so many
details of the VA's security scheme, but ``it's
important that this comes out and be corrected.''
Money as well as information was up for grabs
through the security holes. The officials
testified that in two case, VA employees used
the weaknesses to write themselves more than
$1.2 million in fraudulent benefit checks. They
said ``dozens'' more fraud cases are under
Lawmakers called the news frightening, and
called for changes.
``I think we in Congress and the VA have
something that we need to get a handle on right
away,'' said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., ranking
member of the subcommittee. ``We've got to make
sure that this is tightened up, there's no
question about it.''
``I find this revelation extremely scary,'' said
subcommittee Chairman Terry Everett, R-Ala.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey placed the
blame on the Clinton administration.
``These studies make me ask again, how can this
administration talk about protecting privacy
when their own departments and agencies put some
of our most private information at risk?'' Armey
The VA officials said some of the security holes
have been repaired since the tests occurred in
December 1999 and January 2000, but that there's
still a lot of work to do.
``They have corrected the major weaknesses that
we have identified, and are in the process of
completing our recommendations by the end of
this year,'' Slachta said. ``But I haven't
A report released by a House subcommittee on
technology, using information from the General
Accounting Office, gave the federal government a
``D-'' overall for information security.
Previously, the Environmental Protection Agency
has been singled out in a GAO report for lax
computer protection systems.
Everett directly asked Robert P. Bubniak, the
acting deputy assistant secretary for
information technology at the department the
question that would be on the minds of veterans
who take advantage of VA services.
``How can you reassure veterans and their
families that hackers and other unauthorized VA
employees have not intruded into their personal
financial and medical information maintained by
the VA?'' he said.
Said Bubniak: ``I cannot.''
Judge Dismisses Slave Labor Cases
By DAVID KRAVETS, Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Surviving World War II
prisoners of war who allege they were used as
slave laborers by some of Japan's biggest
corporations cannot seek compensation from the
companies, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
In dismissing lawsuits brought by about three
dozen former POWs, U.S. District Court Judge
Vaughn Walker ruled that a 1951 peace agreement
between the United States and Japan bans such
``History has vindicated the wisdom of that
bargain,'' the judge said. ``And while full
compensation for plaintiffs' hardships, in the
purely economic sense, has been denied these
former prisoners and countless other survivors
of the war, the immeasurable bounty of life for
themselves and their posterity in a free society
and in a more peaceful world services the debt.''
California became a magnet for such cases last
year when the legislature enacted a law allowing
victims of slave labor to sue multinational
Lester Tenney, a former POW who said he spent
three years in a slave labor camp toiling in a
dangerous coal mine, said after Walker's ruling
that all he wanted was an apology, not money.
``I want them to say to me that we did you
wrong,'' said Tenney, an 80-year-old Army
Attorneys for the targeted corporations -
Mitsubishi Corp., Mitsui & Co., Nippon Steel
Corp., Nippon Sharyo Ltd., Japan Energy Corp.,
Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha Ltd. and others - agreed
with Walker's ruling that the treaty essentially
settled any American disputes with Japan.
``It's definitely a correct ruling. That's what
the treaty said,'' said Margaret Pfeiffer, a
Washington, D.C. attorney for Nippon Steel.
The State Department also weighed in on the
case, urging Walker to dismiss the suits. The
U.S. government said the treaty waived all
claims against Japan by the government and its
nationals. Allowing the suits to proceed would
undermine the peace accord, the government said.
The former prisoners' attorneys demanded a
rehearing, which Walker granted and scheduled
for Dec. 13. But judges rarely reverse their own
David Casey Jr., a lawyer for the prisoners,
said the companies should be liable, regardless
of the treaty.
``These companies owned these people,'' he said.
Ex-Doctor Charged in Patient Slaying
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A former doctor who has
admitted killing three patients in New York and
is suspected of poisoning dozens of others was
charged Thursday with killing a woman at an Ohio
hospital 16 years ago.
Michael J. Swango has agreed to plead guilty to
the charge of aggravated murder, prosecutor Ron
He is accused of injecting Cynthia Ann McGee,
19, with a fatal dose of potassium in 1984, when
he was an intern at Ohio State University
Hospitals and she was recovering after being
struck by a car.
Two weeks ago, Swango pleaded guilty in U.S.
District Court in New York to killing three
patients at a veterans' hospital there in 1993.
A plea deal means he will spend the rest of his
life in prison.
Swango, 45, also is suspected of poisoning
patients in Zimbabwe and served time in prison
for the nonfatal poisoning of co-workers in
Illinois. A book about him, ``Blind Eye: The
Story of a Doctor who Got Away with Murder,''
suggests he might have killed as many as 35
patients as he moved from hospital to hospital,
lying about his background.
Ohio prosecutor Ed Morgan has investigated
Swango for 15 years in the suspicious deaths of
at least six patients at Ohio State Hospitals
between 1983 and 1984.
``I've always felt that he's been involved in a
lot more deaths at Ohio State, but I didn't have
- and still don't have - the evidence to prove
it,'' he said.
After McGee died, Scott Bone, the driver of the
car that struck her bicycle two months earlier,
was convicted of reckless homicide. Bone, then
17, was sentenced to 30 months' probation and
1,000 hours of community service and lost his
license for several years.
His mother, Judy Bone, has said she hoped her
son's record would be cleared if Swango was
found to have killed McGee.
Lecture gives World War II veterans a chance to
Columbus Dispatch Staff Reporter
Dr. Walter Baum of Columbus didn't hear
newscaster Walter Cronkite's coverage of World
War II for a very good reason: The surgeon
served with the Army and was stationed on
battlefields across Europe.
On Wednesday, Baum and hundreds of other World
War II veterans will be able to hear "old iron
pants'' at A Conversation With Walter Cronkite,
which is being held at Veterans Memorial
Some of them will be going free -- courtesy of
Lou Mitchell, an Ohio Historical Foundation
board member who is giving 142 $50 tickets to
World War II veterans.
The Ohio Historical Society is working with
veterans groups to select recipients of the
"It's something I feel very close to. Those kids
saved this country,'' said Mitchell, whose
brother served in the Army in Europe during
World War II. Mitchell was too young to be in
"It's a small way to pay back people,'' he said.
"I feel for their magnificent contributions.''
The event, Cronkite's first central Ohio
appearance in 20 years, is part of the society's
annual meeting and will help promote the
society's 1940s exhibit "Kilroy Was Here! The
1940s Revisited,'' spokeswoman Maggie Sanese
"We're very excited. How many living journalists
have seen the action he has?''
Audience members will be able to submit
questions to Cronkite, a CBS broadcaster for 49
years. But for many veterans, just his
reminiscences about World War II will be enough.
"Very honest, evenhanded. You could believe in
him,'' said Baum, 81, of the East Side. The
doctor joined the Army in 1941 and was on Utah
beach in Normandy after it had been secured.
Baum said he's looking forward to Cronkite's
stories about covering World War II.
"We couldn't get The Columbus Dispatch or The
New York Times out there. There was no TV, no
radios -- well, I had a radio, but it was tuned
to the Armed Forces Network,'' he said.
Carl Cossin of the South Side also didn't get a
chance to hear Cronkite's World War II reports.
He was a member of the 85th regiment of the 10th
Mountain Division stationed in Italy, the same
regiment as former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole.
"I just think of a man who is familiar with his
subject and who speaks loud and clear,'' said
Cossin, 78. "He's the kind of guy you emulate.''
Cossin said he appreciates the free tickets;
he's hoping to get two of them. "I want to bring
along a friend,'' Cossin said. "He's a combat
A Conversation With Walter Cronkite will begin
at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Veterans Memorial, 300
W. Broad St. For tickets, which cost $25, $40 or
$50, call the Ohio Historical Society at 614-297-
2300 or 800-686-6124. Tickets also are available
from Ticketmaster outlets.
Official charged in record altering
By SHANNON D. HARRINGTON
BERGEN RECORD Staff Writer
LYNDHURST NJ -- The Bergen County prosecutor
charged the township's finance commissioner
Monday with embellishing his military service
record with honors such as the Purple Heart and
Albert P. Opacity, 50, was charged with
tampering with public records, a third-degree
offense punishable by up to five years in
prison, said Assistant Prosecutor Ike Gavzy.
Investigators say that Opacity altered a
military record that he filed in the township's
tax assessor's office.
Opacity, who served in the Army from March 1975
to March 1977, claimed on that record -- called
a DD Form 214 -- that he had earned the rank of
captain and that he had been awarded a Bronze
Star, a Purple Heart, a Republic of Vietnam
Campaign Ribbon, and a Combat Infantry Badge,
But investigators say the original certified
copy of the form does not list
those honors, and states that Opacity left the Army as a clerk typist with a
rank of specialist fourth class.
Opacity was required to file the military service form in the township
assessor's office in order to receive a small property tax break. But Gavzy
said Opacity would have qualified for that discount regardless of his
However, Gavzy said Opacity, a funeral director in Kenilworth, touted his
military service during his election campaign three years ago. Opacity's
expires next year.
"The allegation isn't that he was in any way attempting to enhance his
financial situation," Gavzy said. "But his allegedly false military
used in his election campaign."
Gavzy said the matter will be presented to a Bergen County grand jury.
Opacity, who was released on his own recognizance, did not return a phone
to his home Monday.
His attorney, Terence Scott, said the allegations are false and that they
from political opponents in the township, although he would not name them.
"It's clearly political motivations," Scott said. "It's a shame
Prosecutor's Office is getting involved in this political foray."
News of the charge disturbed some New Jersey Vietnam War veterans.
"If it's true, it's really a serious offense," said Bob Maras, past
of the New Jersey Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America who now serves
the group's national board. "It's a slap in the face to every veteran.
dishonoring their service. For people to go out there and portray themselves
something that they're not -- it gets under my skin."
Maras, of Lakehurst, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, said he doubted
Opacity would have seen combat after March 1975. South Vietnam surrendered
North Vietnam on April 30, 1975.
Lyndhurst Commissioner Thomas Graffam said he wanted to talk with
before commenting on the charge.
"It's very sad for the town if it's true," he said. "We don't
scandals, that's for sure."
Veterans hope to wield ballot-box clout
By Chris Vaughn
FORT WORTH Star-Telegram Staff Writer
To the 25 million Americans who once swore to defend the nation, the Nov. 7
election is about more than electing a new president.
It is about choosing the next commander-in-chief, the leader of America's
million active-duty troops and 870,000 reservists in uniform. And veterans
to command more voting power than ever.
The issues important to veterans -- pay, health care, weapons systems and
foreign policy objectives -- have not been clearer since 1980, a period like
today's in which the might of the U.S. military was in question.
"We've never been as organized as we are now with this grassroots
said Ollie Cook, a retired Air Force technical sergeant who lives in Haltom
City. "This election is going to have the biggest voting bloc of military
The veterans vote is substantial, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice
President Al Gore are actively courting it. But veterans have not always
in solidarity, due to differences in age, gender, race, length of service
other factors. Major veterans groups don't endorse candidates because doing
could endanger their tax-exempt status.
But Paul Arcari, director of government relations for The Retired Officers
Association in suburban Washington, D.C., said he has never seen veterans so
involved in the political system.
"It's hard to say whether dissatisfied veterans will have enough votes in
election," he said. "But in close elections, they will."
Texas is home to 1.55 million veterans, second only to California. Of those,
173,000 are career veterans who retired from military service, with most of
them concentrated in Tarrant, Dallas and Bexar counties.
For all veterans and retirees -- regardless of whether they ever saw combat
served overseas -- their time in uniform helped shape who they are today and
often translates into decisions in the voting booth. Veterans groups say
retirees tend to be more concerned with benefits issues than are other
The nation called on Aubrey Hallum in 1950 when he was a young student at
University of Texas. War was on in Korea and Hallum was in the Marine Corps
"World War II had only been over five years," he said from his
Worth. "We got to San Diego and the facilities had been locked down and
been touched since then. We were totally unprepared."
It was there that Hallum, who had assumed that he was headed to combat --
though he ultimately was not -- decided that "downsizing" in the
should have a limit.
And it is the main reason that Hallum -- a lifelong Republican who cast his
first vote for Dwight Eisenhower -- plans on voting for Bush, because he
the Clinton/Gore administration for drawing the military down too much.
"You should get the military up to strength and pay them to do the job
he said. "It's a high priority only when your country gets in trouble.
you'd better not wait until then to get it right."
Bush has been highly critical of the Clinton administration, saying it has
the Pentagon's budget too much and weakened morale by stretching the forces
thin. Gore contends that the U.S. military is stronger than ever.
The defense budget, the number of active-duty troops and the purchase of
weapons has declined markedly since the end of the Persian Gulf War. But it
a downsizing that President Bush began, Clinton carried on and one with
the Congress and Joint Chiefs of Staff went along.
Both presidential candidates agree on a number of defense issues,
in that they each pledge to spend billions more than the current $262
Gore has said that he would add $100 billion to the defense budget in the
10 years, and Bush said that he would add $45 billion in the next decade.
Gore has generally been less specific in his outline than the governor.
Dick Atkins is an old-school Democrat, a retired Air Force lieutenant
who speaks unabashedly of patriotism and winning wars, a habit drawn from
service in the waning days of World War II.
But Atkins, 74, said he figures that the Democratic Party left him with
nominees such as Clinton and Gore, whom he too blames for the problems of
recruiting and retention, and the shortage of basic spare parts for planes
"I see nothing in anything Gore has said or in his actions, past or
that would convince me that anything would change with him as president,"
said from his Arlington home.
Willie J. Washington is a lifelong Democrat too, but he's never quit voting
them. "No candidate is going to deliver always, but I try to stay with
was raised up a Democrat," he said.
Washington, 70, joined the Army in 1947 and ended up with the all-black 24th
Infantry sent to the Korean War. He believes in a strong, ready military,
from his perspective today's is plenty big and strong. More of the
money could be spent on education and job training, he figures.
"It's peacetime," he said. "I don't see any reason for making
it bigger now.
don't see any threats like the Soviet Union or China. We're just fighting
little wars nowadays."
Tony Taylor served in Vietnam in 1969 as a 20-year-old Marine from Azle.
year was extraordinary for him; not a day passes when he is not reminded of
He is contemptuous of the Clinton administration, and like many veterans,
never gotten over the feeling that the president dodged service in the
But with two candidates who both served -- Gore in the Army, Bush in the Air
National Guard -- that issue is largely off the table for Taylor. He will
for Bush, whether the governor joined the National Guard to avoid Vietnam or
"He was one of many," said Taylor, 51. "I have friends who went
reserves hoping they didn't have to go over there."
Ironically, perhaps, some veterans see more courage in Bush's service as an
F-102 pilot in Texas than Gore's service as an Army journalist in Vietnam.
"Flying a jet is not exactly safe," Hallum said. "It's not as
safe as a
Not everyone has made up their mind, though. Eric Ahrends, 30, enlisted in
Air Force in 1989, served at the end of the Persian Gulf War, and got out of
the service early during the military's first stages of drawdown.
In some areas, including military experience, Ahrends gives a slight edge to
Gore, though he said he is still looking at both men. But whoever wins, he
wants them to improve benefits for military retirees and disabled veterans.
"Those guys need to be taken care of," he said. "I believe
One of those men is Cook, 69, who has devoted the last few years to fighting
for better health care for retirees.
One of the principal players in a vast email network of retirees, Cook wants
the Defense Department to provide free health care to people who served 20
more years in the service, a practice that
evaporated during the drawdown of the military
in the 1990s.
Cook said he believes that health care was a
promise made to retirees and it is the driving
force in this year's presidential and
The retired military community has struggled to
make Bush and Gore aware of the different
concerns of veterans and retirees, but has made
only halting progress, they said.
"They have not done a very good job of putting
their fingers on the health care issue," Arcari
said. "I was disappointed in their answers" to
the association's questions. "What it says to me
is that their advisers are not as tuned as they
ought to be."