Earn our votes '08: What would Clinton, Obama and McCain really do with Iraq?

9 years ago

Oh the irony.

After years of being told "I've never met anyone from Montana before!" my home state of fewer than one million people will have a high profile Tuesday when voters in Montana and South Dakota (with even fewer inhabitants) go to the polls to decide which Democratic nominee gets their combined 31 delegates.

But we're not here today to talk about the Election 2008 horse race. Given the divisive acrimony created by the ongoing battle for delegates between the Clinton and Obama campaigns, I think it's time we focus our community's attention on a policy issue that partisan bickering won't resolve: Iraq.

How appropriate for Montana and South Dakota, where we locals grow up familiar with the sight of yellow ribbons tied around trees. In Montana, where logging and mining have taken a beating in the past 30 years, and where a $6.55 minimum wage means a full-time wage-earner earns $13,624 a year for starters, military careers represent a fantastic opportunity for advancement and education. It's no surprise to me that Montana ranks second for the number of troops killed in Iraq per capita at 25 per million residents as of May 1.

That's why in this post, I'm going to focus on the candidates' answers to your Voter Manifesto questions about Iraq below:

BlogHer Voter Manifesto

Topic: Iraq

Questions:
1. Will you work to end the Iraq war before the 2008 election? If so, how?
2. The war is draining our country’s finances, and even with a significant troop pullout, the costs will not end soon. How do you propose to keep paying for the costs of war?
3. What are you physically going to do to help the Veteran's Administration and soldiers in need, instead of just paying lip service?

Read all 12 questions

I chronicle answers by Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama in their own words and in pretty excruciating detail below. I have to share that, when it comes to caring for veterans, I can only read these opinions with the eyes of a woman whose best friend from fifth grade shipped off to Germany after our high school graduation. I was lucky enough to go straight to college. She went straight into the Army, started her down a path that resulted in her earning a master's degree in German; today she leads the town's high school German program.

I'm relieved to see action plans for veterans in all three candidate planks, specific plans with voting records and dollar amounts next to them. John McCain's plans for the future are less well articulated, but given his decades-long voting record on the subject of veterans, I'm satisfied that I know where he stands. I think both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama chart strong, clear plans to reversing the abysmal record of health service to veterans that we saw with the shameful legacy of Walter Reed. The key with any new administration will be rewarding news organizations like The Washington Post to continue to watchdog this essential issue.

As for Iraq? Nothing speaks more loudly than the stark contrast between Sen. McCain's language and that of Senators Obama and Clinton, between the Democrats' immediate plans for initiating withdrawal if they take office -- not to mention Sen. Obama's ongoing opposition for the war -- and Sen. McCain's strong belief that the latest surge has been "paid off" and that "those gains would be lost if we we were to...withdraw most of our troops" at this time.

Enough of my impressions -- I want to hear yours, once you read their policies. Here's what I found when I took these questions to the Web sites of presidential candidates, seeking their solution to Iraq here's what I found -- in alphabetical order, first by party and second by last name:


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Democrat
Senator, New York state
Site: www.hillaryclinton.com

Answers by Candidate Clinton:

BlogHer: Will you work to end the Iraq war before the 2008 election? If so, how?

Source: http://hillaryclinton.com/issues/iraq/

Hillary Clinton has announced her plan to end the war in Iraq and urged President Bush to act immediately:

"Our message to the president is clear. It is time to begin ending this war -- not next year, not next month -- but today.

"We have heard for years now that as the Iraqis stand up, our troops will stand down. Every year, we hear about how next year they may start coming home. Now we are hearing a new version of that yet again from the president as he has more troops in Iraq than ever and the Iraqi government is more fractured and ineffective than ever.

"Well, the right strategy before the surge and post-escalation is the same: start bringing home America's troops now."

If President Bush does not end the war, when Hillary Clinton is president, she will. Her three-step plan would bring our troops home, work to bring stability to the region, and replace military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future. Hillary has been fighting every day in the Senate to force the president to change course. And today she described how she would bring the war to an end.

Starting Phased Redeployment within Hillary's First Days in Office: The most important part of Hillary's plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq's civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary's first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration. She would also direct the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to prepare a comprehensive plan to provide the highest quality health care and benefits to every service member -- including every member of the National Guard and Reserves -- and their families.

Securing Stability in Iraq as we Bring our Troops Home. As president, Hillary would focus American aid efforts during our redeployment on stabilizing Iraq, not propping up the Iraqi government. She would direct aid to the entities -- whether governmental or non-governmental -- most likely to get it into the hands of the Iraqi people. She would also support the appointment of a high level U.N. representative -- similar to those appointed in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo -- to help broker peace among the parties in Iraq.

BlogHer: What are you physically going to do to help the Veteran's Administration and soldiers in need, instead of just paying lip service?

Source: http://hillaryclinton.com/issues/veterans/

"As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hillary has championed legislation to improve the lives of our veterans and their families. She worked to provide access to TRICARE for National Guard and Reserve members. She authored the Heroes at Home Act that will begin to help service members struggling with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. She worked with others in the Senate to pass legislation to increase the military survivor benefit from $12,000 to $100,000.

As president, she will honor three fundamental commitments: First, every member of our armed forces will receive a fair shot at the American dream when their service is over. Second, every veteran in America will have health care. Third, every veteran will receive the benefits they have earned and the assistance they need - right from the start."

Clinton's site goes on to list a number of initiatives, including these:

Enact a GI Bill of Rights for the Twenty-First Century. Hillary will enact a GI Bill of Rights for the 21st century that will resurrect the spirit of the original 1944 GI Bill and offer service members, veterans and their families with expanded education, housing and entrepreneurial benefits. Her plan will guarantee equal access for all components of the Armed Forces - Active, Guard and Reserve - that have deployed overseas in support of a combat operation since September 11 or served two years of active duty since September 11. She will fund undergraduate education for service members, as well as education for specialized trade or technical training, and certification and licensing programs. She will expand the VA Home Loan Guaranty program to allow veterans to use low-interest, no-fee loans to purchase, build or improve a home valued up to $625,000. She will establish a Veterans Microloan Program to provide veterans with no-collateral, low-interest microloans of up to $100,000 for entrepreneurial ventures.

Provide Affordable and Quality Health Care for All Veterans. As President, Hillary will ensure that all of the 1.8 million uninsured veterans in this country have access to quality, affordable health care. She will restore the Clinton-era policy that opened the VA’s excellent and cost-effective health care system to all veterans who seek to enroll. She will make a long-term commitment to the VA system to ensure it is adequately funded and has the capacity to avoid backlogs and to handle greater enrollments. And she will provide coverage through the American Health Choices Plan to all veterans who choose not to use the VA system.

Provide Affordable and Quality Health Care for All Veterans. As President, Hillary will ensure that all of the 1.8 million uninsured veterans in this country have access to quality, affordable health care. She will restore the Clinton-era policy that opened the VA’s excellent and cost-effective health care system to all veterans who seek to enroll. She will make a long-term commitment to the VA system to ensure it is adequately funded and has the capacity to avoid backlogs and to handle greater enrollments. And she will provide coverage through the American Health Choices Plan to all veterans who choose not to use the VA system.

Extend Hiring Preferences to Veterans-friendly Contractors. Today, there are between 7.2 and 7.6 million federal contractors, 2 million more than there were five years ago. The privatization of government by the Bush administration has meant veterans are losing job opportunities, because contractors do not necessarily have the same hiring policies as the federal government. Hillary will cut the number of contractors working for the federal government by 500,000 over the next 10 years, saving $10 to $18 billion a year. And she will restore and expand job opportunities for veterans by working to establish a system through which federal contractors afford veterans hiring preference comparable to the federal government’s.


Barack Obama
Democrat
Senator, Illinois state
Site: www.barackobama.com

Answers by Candidate Obama:

Sen. Obama agreed to this video interview with BlogHer in which he answers three questions about the war in Iraq:
1. Will you work to end the Iraq war before the 2008 election? If so, how?
2. How do you propose to keep paying for the costs of war?
3. What are you physically going to do to help the Veteran's Administration and soldiers in need?

Also, BarackObama.com provides the following responses at these URLs:
http://www.barackobama.com/issues/iraq/
http://www.barackobama.com/issues/veterans/

Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.
Press Iraq’s Leaders to Reconcile

The best way to press Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future is to make it clear that we are leaving. As we remove our troops, Obama will engage representatives from all levels of Iraqi society – in and out of government – to seek a new accord on Iraq’s Constitution and governance. The United Nations will play a central role in this convention, which should not adjourn until a new national accord is reached addressing tough questions like federalism and oil revenue-sharing.

Obama will launch the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history to reach a new compact on the stability of Iraq and the Middle East. This effort will include all of Iraq’s neighbors — including Iran and Syria. This compact will aim to secure Iraq’s borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq’s sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq’s reconstruction.
Humanitarian Initiative

Obama believes that America has a moral and security responsibility to confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis — two million Iraqis are refugees; two million more are displaced inside their own country. Obama will form an international working group to address this crisis. He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven.

...Obama has a plan to immediately begin withdrawing our troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year. He would call for a new constitutional convention in Iraq, convened with the United Nations, which would not adjourn until Iraq's leaders reach a new accord on reconciliation. He would use presidential leadership to surge our diplomacy with all of the nations of the region on behalf of a new regional security compact. And he would take immediate steps to confront the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Iraq.

Veterans Affairs

* Allow All Veterans Back into the VA: One of Obama's first acts will be reversing the 2003 ban on enrolling modest-income veterans, which has denied care to a million veterans.
* Strengthen VA Care: Obama will make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible. He will improve care for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, and women's health.
* Combat Homelessness among Our Nation's Veterans: Obama will establish a national "zero tolerance" policy for veterans falling into homelessness by expanding proven programs and launching innovative services to prevent veterans from falling into homelessness.
* Fight Veterans Employment Discrimination: Obama will crack down on employers who commit job discrimination against guardsmen and reservists.

Help for Returning Service Members

Obama will improve the quality of health care for veterans, rebuild the VA's broken benefits system, and combat homelessness among veterans.

* Ensure a Seamless Transition: Obama will demand that the military and the VA coordinate to provide a seamless transition from active duty to civilian life.
* Fully Fund VA Medical Care: Barack Obama will fully fund the VA so it has all the resources it needs to serve the veterans who need it, when they need it. Obama will establish a world-class VA Planning Division to avoid future budget shortfalls.
* Fix the Benefits Bureaucracy: Obama will hire additional claims workers, and improve training and accountability so that VA benefit decisions are rated fairly and consistently. He also will transform the paper benefit claims process to an electronic one to reduce errors and improve timeliness.

Improved Mental Health Treatment

Obama will improve mental health treatment for troops and veterans suffering from combat-related psychological injuries.

* Improve Mental Health Treatment: Obama will improve mental health care at every stage of military service. He will recruit more health professionals, improve screening, offer more support to families and make PTSD benefits claims fairer.
* Improve Care for Traumatic Brain Injury: Obama will establish standards of care for Traumatic Brain Injury, the signature injury of the Iraq war.
* Expand Vet Centers: Obama will expand and strengthen Vet Centers to provide more counseling for vets and their families.


John McCain
Republican
Senator, Arizona state
Site: www.johnmccain.com

In two related posts, Sen. McCain participated in a blogger conference call with Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest in which he envisioned troops home by 2013, but stated in response to a question from a blogger that he does not consider that date a timeline for withdrawal. See also my interview with McCain's leading surrogate and GOP Victory Chair Carly Fiorina who said "the short answer to 'Will his leadership differ from Bush's?' is yes." More here.

Answers by Candidate McCain:

BlogHer: Will you work to end the Iraq war before the 2008 election? If so, how?

Source: http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/fdeb03a7-30b0-4ece-8e34-4c7e…

John McCain believes it is strategically and morally essential for the United States to support the Government of Iraq to become capable of governing itself and safeguarding its people. He strongly disagrees with those who advocate withdrawing American troops before that has occurred.

It would be a grave mistake to leave before Al Qaeda in Iraq is defeated and before a competent, trained, and capable Iraqi security force is in place and operating effectively. We must help the Government of Iraq battle those who provoke sectarian tensions and promote a civil war that could destabilize the Middle East. Iraq must not become a failed state, a haven for terrorists, or a pawn of Iran. These likely consequences of America's failure in Iraq almost certainly would either require us to return or draw us into a wider and far costlier war.

The best way to secure long-term peace and security is to establish a stable, prosperous, and democratic state in Iraq that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists. When Iraqi forces can safeguard their own country, American troops can return home.

Support the Successful Counterinsurgency Strategy

John McCain has been a leading advocate of the “surge” and the counterinsurgency strategy carried out by General David Petraeus. At the end of 2006, four years of a badly conceived military strategy that concentrated American troops on large bases brought us near to the point of no return. Sectarian violence in Iraq was spiraling out of control. Al Qaeda in Iraq was on the offensive. Entire provinces were under extremists’ control and were deemed all but lost. At that critical moment, John McCain supported sending reinforcements to Iraq to implement a classic counterinsurgency strategy of securing the population.

That strategy has paid off. From June 2007 through March 2008, sectarian and ethnic violence in Iraq was reduced by 90 percent. Civilian deaths and deaths of coalition forces fell by 70 percent. This has opened the way for a return to something that approaches normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi. Political reconciliation is occurring across Iraq at the local and provincial grassroots level. Sunni and Shi'a chased from their homes by terrorist and sectarian violence are returning. The "Sons of Iraq" and Awakening movements, where former Sunni insurgents have now joined in the fight against Al Qaeda, continue to grow.

Those gains would be lost if we were to follow the policy advocated by Senator Barack Obama to withdraw most of our troops and leave behind only a small “strike force” to battle terrorists. That is, in essence, the same strategy of withdrawing from Iraq’s streets that failed in 2006. John McCain advocates continuing the successful counterinsurgency strategy that began in 2007.

Push for Political Reconciliation and Good Government

Thanks to the success of the surge, Iraq's political order is evolving in positive and hopeful ways. Four out of the six laws cited as benchmarks by the U.S. have been passed by the Iraqi legislature. A law on amnesty and a law rolling back some of the harsher restrictions against former employees of the Iraqi government have made it possible for Iraqis to move toward genuine reconciliation. The legislature has devolved greater power to local and provincial authorities, where much of the real work of rebuilding Iraq is taking place.

More progress is necessary. The government must improve its ability to serve all Iraqis. A key test for the Iraqi government will be finding jobs in the security services and the civilian sector for the “Sons of Iraq” who have risked so much to battle terrorists.

Iraq will conduct two landmark elections in the near future – one for provincial governments in late 2008 and the other for the national government in 2009. John McCain believes we should welcome a larger United Nations role in supporting the elections. The key condition for successful elections is for American troops to continue to work with brave Iraqis to allow the voting to take place in relative freedom and security. Iraqis need to know that the U.S. will not abandon them, but will continue to press their politicians to show the necessary leadership to help develop their country.

Get Iraq's Economy Back on its Feet

John McCain believes that economic progress is essential to sustaining security gains in Iraq. Markets that were once silent and deserted have come back to life in many areas, but high unemployment rates continue to fuel criminal and insurgent violence. To move young men away from the attractions of well-funded extremists, we need a vibrant, growing Iraqi economy. The Iraqi government can jump-start this process by using a portion of its budget surplus to employ Iraqis in infrastructure projects and in restoring basic services.

The international community should bolster proven microfinance programs to spur local-level entrepreneurship throughout the country. Iraq's Arab neighbors, in particular, should promote regional stability by directly investing the fruits of their oil exports in Iraq. As these efforts begin to take hold in Iraq, the private sector, as always, will create the jobs and propel the growth that will end reliance on outside aid. Iraq’s government needs support to better deliver basic services—clean water, garbage collection, abundant electricity, and, above all, a basic level of security—that create a climate where the Iraqi economy creation can flourish.

Call for International Pressure on Syria and Iran

Syria and Iran have aided and abetted the violence in Iraq for too long. Syria has refused to crack down on Iraqi insurgents and foreign terrorists operating within its territory. Iran has been providing the most extreme and violent Shia militias with training, weapons, and technology that kill American and Iraqi troops. American military spokesmen have also said there is evidence that Iran has provided aid to Sunni insurgents.

The answer is not unconditional dialogues with these two dictatorships from a position of weakness. The answer is for the international community to apply real pressure to Syria and Iran to change their behavior. The United States must also bolster its regional military posture to make clear to Iran our determination to protect our forces and deter Iranian intervention.

Level with the American People

John McCain believes it is essential to be honest with the American people about the opportunities and risks that lie ahead. The American people deserve the truth from their leaders. They deserve a candid assessment of the progress made in the last year, of the serious difficulties that remain, and of the grave consequences of a reckless and irresponsible withdrawal.

Many Americans have given their lives so that America does not suffer the worst consequences of failure in Iraq. Doing the right thing in the heat of a political campaign is not always easy. But it is necessary.

John McCain on the Road Ahead

“I do not want to keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests there. Our goal is an Iraq that can stand on its own as a democratic ally and a responsible force for peace in its neighborhood. Our goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops. And I believe we can achieve that goal, perhaps sooner than many imagine. But I do not believe that anyone should make promises as a candidate for President that they cannot keep if elected. To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership. “

“I know the pain war causes. I understand the frustration caused by our mistakes in this war. And I regret sincerely the additional sacrifices imposed on the brave Americans who defend us. But I also know the toll a lost war takes on an army and on our country's security. By giving General Petraeus and the men and women he has the honor to command the time and support necessary to succeed in Iraq we have before us a hard road. But it is the right road. It is necessary and just. Those who disregard the unmistakable progress we have made in the last year and the terrible consequences that would ensue were we to abandon our responsibilities in Iraq have chosen another road. It may appear to be the easier course of action, but it is a much more reckless one, and it does them no credit even if it gives them an advantage in the next election.” –John McCain

BlogHer: What are you physically going to do to help the Veteran's Administration and soldiers in need, instead of just paying lip service?

Source: http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/9cb5d2aa-f237-464e-9cdf-a5ad…

John McCain believes that meeting the needs of our service members who defend us is our obligation and is essential to our national security. He worked to increase pay scales for servicemen and women during both the Persian Gulf War and the current War on Terror and to increase enlistment and reenlistment bonuses for reservists and guardsmen. He also sponsored bills to give special tax relief to deployed service members and to set up overseas savings programs for the men and women fighting in the Gulf War.

Honoring the Service of Reservists and Guardsmen

The nation's reserve personnel have been a vital component of the Global War on Terror, with reservists serving side-by-side with active duty members in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe. John McCain believes that the fundamental role of reservists has changed over the last decade, and given their invaluable role and the tremendous sacrifices that these men and women have made, they should receive additional benefits than those that they have traditionally been granted.

For this reason, John McCain has supported legislation to expand retirement benefits for reservists, supported provisions to expand eligibility for health care benefits for reservists and their families, and sponsored legislation to grant survivor benefit payments to the spouses of reservists who die during or as the result of training.

Improving Veterans' Health Care

John McCain believes that America's veterans who dedicated themselves to protecting our country deserve the highest quality health care. He is committed to ensuring that veterans' health care programs receive the funding necessary to provide the quality health care our veterans need and deserve. He has worked to ensure that the Veteran's Affairs provides care for all eligible veterans, no matter where they live or what they need. In addition, John McCain has fought to ensure that retired servicemen and women have meaningful access to affordable health care.

Funding Veterans' Health Care

John McCain has voted repeatedly, throughout his career, to ensure that the Veteran's Affairs health care programs receive the funding necessary to serve our veterans. He has supported numerous funding increases, initiatives to make the VA more efficient, and proposals to give higher pay to VA doctors in order to recruit and retain high quality physicians and dentists.

Expanding Veterans' Access to Health Care

John McCain has worked to ensure that geography does not prevent veterans from receiving the care they have earned. He supported measures to allow veterans in remote areas of Alaska to get care at existing facilities run by the Indian Health Service or tribal organizations. He also rallied support for a demonstration project to send mobile health centers to remote locations where veterans need care. In addition, he sponsored legislation that would ensure that health care funding is distributed fairly, and that eligible veterans in all regions of the country can equally access high quality health care.

Serving the Special Health Care Needs of Veterans

John McCain understands that veterans face a broad array of health challenges, many of which disproportionately afflict our former service members. He has fought to ensure that veterans receive health care that reflects their unique needs.

For this reason, John McCain advocated for guaranteeing health benefits to veterans who have been exposed to radiation. He also worked to advance studies on the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and to give disability benefits to veterans with cancer and other health problems caused by Agent Orange. He supported efforts to provide veterans with treatment for tobacco related illnesses and substance abuse problems, and he sponsored legislation to cover mental health care in military retiree health plans. John McCain has also been a leading advocate for providing veterans with hospice benefits.

Health Care for Retired Veterans

John McCain believes that all military retirees, even if they are not eligible for VA health care, should be provided with meaningful access to health care. The federal government should ease the burden of health care costs on those people who have dedicated their careers to protecting our freedom. He has supported allowing military retirees to remain eligible for CHAMPUS or TRICARE military health care programs even when they reach the age of 65 and are eligible for Medicare. He has also consistently supported efforts to give military retirees tax breaks to help pay health insurance premiums, and he has opposed placing user fees on military retirees for using military medical facilities.

Providing Veterans with the Benefits They Have Earned

John McCain strongly believes that it is our duty as a nation to provide our veterans, who dedicated their careers, risked their personal safety, and sometimes sacrificed their lives in order to protect us, with the benefits that we have promised them and that they have earned.

John McCain has voted consistently to increase funding for veterans' benefits, recognizing that the people who serve our country should get priority over the disgraceful amounts of spending on corporate subsidies and wasteful pork barrel spending. He also pushed for various initiatives to ensure that veterans who are eligible for benefits know what they are entitled to and have the resources to obtain their benefits.

Caring for Our Disabled Veterans

John McCain has been a leading advocate in the Senate for disabled veterans throughout his entire career. He fought for nearly fifteen years, introducing numerous bills, to ensure that veterans with service-connected disabilities can receive the retirement benefits that they have earned, as well as the disability compensation benefits that they are entitled to. He has also worked to ensure that veterans can have their disability claims processed in a timely manner, working with the VA to rectify its huge backlog of claims and providing additional resources for that purpose.

John McCain believes very strongly that service members who suffered permanent injuries in service to our nation should not be forced to give up their disability compensation in order to collect their retirement pay. For this reason, John McCain has been a staunch supporter of repealing the historic ban on receiving both disability and retirement pay at the same time. Over the past few years, John McCain has successfully pushed for provisions to compensate disabled retired veterans for this disparity. Now, because of his efforts, veterans with severe combat-related disabilities are able to collect their retirement and disability compensation at the same time. John McCain will continue to fight for equal treatment of disabled veterans under the retirement system. In an effort to help disabled veterans with their health care, he cosponsored a measure to allow disabled veterans to be enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the same health insurance offered to Senators and Congressmen. He has also supported higher payments to disabled veterans and survivors of veterans who died because of service connected injuries.

John McCain has worked to increase VA resources for paralysis research, and he spearheaded an effort to establish a Blind Rehabilitation Center in Tucson, Arizona to help the 1,200 vets on waiting lists for rehab services for the blind.

A Leading Advocate for Gulf War Veterans

John McCain has always been a leader on veteran's issues, and Congress has often looked to him, particularly during times of conflict and war. On January 31, 1991, Senator Bob Dole appointed John McCain Co-Chairman of a task force to make recommendations to the Senate regarding effective policies to help the men and women and their families who served in Operations Desert Shield/Storm. John McCain worked with his colleagues to identify the most beneficial proposals, including doubling veteran and service member life insurance benefits, the establishment of a death gratuity payment for Persian Gulf service members, housing loan benefits for Gulf War veterans, expanded reemployment rights, and providing readjustment counseling for veterans.

Easing the Transition to Civilian Life

John McCain believes that we must do what we can to smooth the transition for veterans from military to civilian life. He has strongly supported educational and job counseling programs to help veterans get civilian employment. He has worked to provide new educational assistance for reservists. He also fought to extend the availability of G.I. bill education benefits for Vietnam veterans, and to expand flight training benefits to more veterans. In addition, John McCain is a strong supporter of the Troops-To-Teachers Act, a program to train veterans to become teachers, and introduced legislation to extend the program. John McCain also believes that we must provide more assistance to veterans who are recently discharged and has worked to extend unemployment and vocational training benefits for veterans.

John McCain has also been a strong advocate for those veterans most in need. He has supported numerous bills to help homeless veterans by providing them with counseling, independent living training, and residential treatment programs so that they can address and overcome those ailments that plague many homeless veterans, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

Protecting Veterans from Financial Loss

John McCain has also worked for a number of other financial protection and relief provisions for service members and veterans. He supported amendments to the bankruptcy reform bill that would protect veterans from being denied bankruptcy claims if they incurred their debts while defending our country. He also sponsored legislation to extend the tax filing deadline for Gulf War service members. In addition, he pushed for legislation to protect veterans from scam artists and loan sharks who would prey on low income veterans by offering them a small amount of "fast cash" to sign over their veteran's benefits.

Protecting for the Families of Our Fallen Heroes

John McCain believes that in addition to our national duty to provide benefits to veterans who return from combat, we must honor those who do not return and provide for their families with a death gratuity benefit and meaningful life insurance coverage. During the last two major military conflicts, John McCain worked to increase death gratuity payments. He cosponsored legislation to double the death gratuity payment in 2003 for service men and women who are killed in the War on Terror. He also sponsored legislation during the first Gulf War to increase the death gratuity payment, and to double the soldier and veterans' group life insurance.

In 2007, after learning about problems that the families of some service members killed in combat were having accessing the death gratuity payment, John McCain introduced legislation to allow service members to designate who they want their benefits to go to in the event of their death. John McCain has also worked to increase the survivor benefit plan for widows or widowers of retired veterans.

Honoring the Service and Sacrifice of Our Past and Present Veterans

John McCain has worked throughout his time in Congress to fulfill our nation's solemn duty to honor those veterans who sacrificed their lives to protect our liberty. In 2006, he sponsored legislation to immortalize the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial as a symbol honoring veterans of the Korean War.

He also advocated for the creation of a number of other veterans' memorials, including a memorial to honor disabled veterans and the National Native American Veterans' Memorial. He sponsored legislation to create National Medal of Honor Sites to honor recipients of the Medal of Honor. He worked to create Arizona's only National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix, and he authored legislation to ensure that veterans have honor guards at their funerals.

Okay, what have I missed? What do you think of the candidates' answers? Who or what would you add?

(As I've reported before, BlogHer continues to invite both Senators Clinton and McCain to respond to a request by women in this community to answer 12 policy questions we developed in a voter manifesto.

Image credit: National Geographic

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