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Sen. John McCain isn't used to criticism about his support for veterans. After all, he spent five years in a Vietnamese prison camp and has staked his presidential campaign on a pledge to carry on the Iraq war.
But of late, McCain has taken heat from antiwar veterans groups such as VoteVets.org for hedging his support for legislation to expand federal funding to help veterans go to college and then for failing to show up for the Senate vote on a supplemental war spending bill that secured passage of the expanded GI Bill benefits last month.
So when a man confronted McCain during a July 7, 2008, town hall meeting — accusing the Arizona senator of speaking out against the GI bill — McCain got testy.
McCain responded that he hadn't opposed the enhanced educational benefits in the GI bill but wanted to ensure that they didn't stand in the way of the military securing re-enlistments. He said he and his allies successfully lobbied the bill's chief sponsor, Jim Webb of Virginia, to include a provision allowing a soldier who wanted to continue his military service to give his educational benefits to a family member.
All that was true. But then McCain took it too far.
"The reason why I have a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and all the other veterans service organizations is because of my support of them," he said.
To be sure, the VFW and the Legion have given McCain awards in the past and can be fairly described as McCain supporters. The VFW's political action committee has endorsed him for re-election to his Senate seat and to his House seat before that, but neither group keeps a voting scorecard.
At the same time, another veterans service organization cited by the McCain critic at the town hall meeting — the Disabled American Veterans — gave McCain only a 20 percent grade in its 2007 voting scorecard. McCain voted for only one of the amendments that the group tallied as key votes, while voting against the other four.
Likewise, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a relatively new group that was instrumental in pushing for the expanded GI Bill, says McCain only voted veterans' way on 58 percent of the 155 Senate votes it tallied between 2001 and 2006. Even the Vietnam Veterans of America reports that McCain has voted against 15 of 31 priority bills it tracked between 2001 and 2008.
As a result, we find McCain's claim to be False.
Wall Street Journal, "Tough Questions at McCain's First Town Hall Meeting," by Elizabeth Holmes, July 7, 2008
Los Angeles Times, "McCain must lead the charge," by Wesley K. Clark and Jon Soltz, April 10, 2008
Senate roll call, Vote on new GI Bill, June 26, 2008
Disabled American Veterans, Congressional scorecard
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Congressional scorecard
Vietnam Veterans of America, Key votes
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