Beware the Partisan Organization which claims to speak for veterans

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bodyarmor "The ad cites a vote on an appropriations amendment that had nothing whatever to do with body armor but that tactic is often used when the real purpose is to attack the politician rather than influence the debate." -- It should go without saying that in politics like all other things, “to the victors go the spoils.” So it came without surprise that when President Obama was elected, Brandon Friedman of VoteVets was given a position with VA as the New Media liaison. What has been a surprise is how inclusive he has been in this position. When the recent news of VA's failure to issue timely checks to students taking advantage of the new GI Bill starting hit main stream media outlets, Brandon immediately set up a bloggers roundtable discussion for all those with a vested interest in this issue to call in and get answers to the many questions that were outstanding. Despite some problems that Brandon has had in the past with many of the more conservative military bloggers, he reached out to them as a valuable constituency in this discussion. He put the needs of the veterans ahead of any political notions. Unfortunately, when put in a similar situation, VoteVets could not bring itself to do the same. Although Votevets claims to be the “leading progressive, pro-military organization of veterans” they are not actually a veterans organization as defined by Congress and set forth by the IRS. Even VoteVets themselves have admitted that only about 5 percent of their members are veterans of the GWOT. And even those are somewhat suspect. In fact, as Mothax discussed in his stolen valor piece, at least two VoteVets spokespeople used in television commercials have been proven to have either made up their military records entirely (Rick Duncan/ Strandlof) or vastly inflated their experiences (Josh Lansdale.) While every organization is capable of being infiltrated by phonies, it is unconscionable that an organization would use a guy in TV commercials who claimed to have had a finger shot off and a plate in his head when simple visual inspection revealed no scars. Unlike The American Legion which operates from a resolution format where the priorities and positions of the organization are dictated by grassroots' members, no one knows how VoteVets determines their positions. Take for instance their current campaign on behalf of the “Card Check” bill which would do away with secret balloting in Union votes. What is the basis for taking a position on this bill which seemingly doesn't actually deal with veterans issues?
Fourteen percent of union members are veterans, some 2.1 million in all.
One is tempted to wonder what the threshold for involvement would be. If 2.3 percent of Dentists are former military, should “veterans organizations” weigh in on issues involving the use of Novocain? Other positions seem to merely be decided based on how much damage can be brought on Republican candidates and Members of Congress. Take for instance this statement by VoteVets board member GEN Wesley Clark regarding John McCain:
"I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility," said Clark, a former NATO commander who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. "He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not," Clark said. Schieffer noted that Obama did not have any of those experiences, nor had he "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down." "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Clark said.
Regardless of personal opinions of Senator McCain, this line of attack seemed beyond the pale of appropriate discourse for someone claiming to represent the views of veterans, something that seemingly the Obama campaign agreed with, as the then-candidate would declare the comments “inartful” and “reject” them.  VoteVets was joined by and Code Pink in defending the comments.

VoteVets has a long history of working with on a variety of issues. Who can forget this newspaper ad of MoveOn's: Betray us ad While the Senate voted 72-25 to condemn MoveOn's "General Betray Us" ad, and the House voted 341-79 to pass a similar resolution, VoteVets refused to denounce it. VoteVets even decided to up the ante by running this commercial against the surge: VoteVets claims to be non-partisan, in fact their main page states that:

VoteVets Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization which primarily focuses on nonpartisan education and advocacy on behalf veterans and their families.
However reconciling this with their actual work is a feat of logical contortion. Take for instance this passage from the Washington Post:
When Iraq war veteran Jon Soltz accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of "aiding the enemy," the Democratic senators gathered around him yesterday did not wince. Nor did Democrats object when Soltz, the chairman of a group called, called President Bush and Vice President Cheney "draft dodgers."
Not one of the candidates supported by Votevets is a Republican, Green, Constitution, Reform or any other party but Democrat. It is enough to make one wonder what “non-partisan” means. But, back to the most recent issue with VA. Following the conversation with the VA set up by Mr. Friedman, various organizations issued press releases to update those veterans who might be affected by the problems, giving them numbers to call to get help, or offering whatever support they could. VoteVets issued one that in part stated that:
Like any new program, the initial phase will always see some errors. That doesn't make them excusable, or make life easier on the receiving end of those mistakes, but does make them to be expected. The question is how an agency responds. And, on this question, after learning more about how the VA is striving to improve the process for GI Bill applications and distribution of certificates of eligibility, is more than satisfied that the Department is quickly moving in the right direction.
However, the statement put out on their blog by head blogger Richard Smith had a different sort of take:
This was all well and good, and it was nice to hear the VA was doing something to fix the problem. That in itself was a breath of fresh air after the conditions under which the VA had been run in the previous administration. The humility of the VA on this occasion and their commitment to fix the problem alone are praiseworthy.
Regarding the payments that would go out immediately to veterans, Smith opined that:
I don't pretend to believe that my question alone led to this decision. It was but one voice in a chorus of grassroots complaints aired to the VA by many bloggers and organizations on that call, combined with the reported voices in media of Veterans all across the country who have been struggling under a failing system. Honestly, I don't think anyone on that call or in the Vet community in general expected this. I know I didn't. The VA has shown what can be done when the agency actually cares what happens to the Veterans it serves. During the last administration, it took major scandals to get anything fixed in the Department, and then it was never corrected at this level. On behalf of myself, and the entire Veteran community, I want to extend a personal thank you to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Assistant Secretary Duckworth and Deputy Director Nelson for making this happen, and ensuring those of us who sacrificed in uniform for our country get the assistance we deserve.
A few things stand out about this statement. Never one to let an issue go to waste without using it as a partisan anvil on which to pound his opponents, Smith decided it was more important to score political points than work on behalf of veterans. He seems to have forgotten that majorities of both parties voted for the Post 9-11 GI Bill, and that it was signed into law by the much despised former administration. My point here is not to defend the prior administration, nor to state that one party is better or worse regarding veterans issues. But without any specific allegations or citations, Mr. Smith has taken it upon himself to speak “on behalf...of the entire Veteran community” to chastise the past leadership of our country and the VA. I'm reminded of a story Mothax once told me about Secretary Principi coming to visit troops in Afghanistan. As soon as the secretary disembarked the aircraft he immediately went out to the guard towers around Bagram Air Base and met with the soldiers protecting the perimeter. Standard SOP for dignitaries was to go to the base operations center and visit with those in charge, but the Secretary wanted to hear first hand from the enlisted men and women to see what their needs and concerns were. This is the man who worked on behalf of veterans that Mr. Smith has chosen to malign. Regarding VoteVets' Herculean efforts on the GI Bill, it is perhaps best to take a look at a comparison. The American Legion has an Economic Division whose sole responsibility is to monitor and aid implementation of the GI Bill and other resources for finding jobs and getting veterans education benefits. It has a director, a deputy director, and an assistant director, all three of whom are veterans of the Global War on Terror. The American Legion also has a Legislative Division with three full-time lobbyists who spend every day on Capitol Hill trying to ensure that the necessary congressional action is taken. And we have a very large Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation division that works with VA on this issue and others. As the GI Bill issue raged the other day, these three divisions were joined by numerous other individuals in trying to quickly respond to the issue. The National Adjutant was coordinating discussion, while the Washington Executive Director had a White House liaison in his office discussing how to best make a difference. The Executive Director also spoke with other groups like Student Veterans of America. Mothax was on the phone and e-mail with groups like the Warrior Legacy Foundation and Soldiers Angels crafting a united strategy in identifying the personnel who needed the help, and figuring out what short term solutions could be utilized until the tardy payments came in. Legionnaires, including Department Service Officers and Directors of state Veterans Services departments, were contacting veterans, school administrators and others to see how we could help. But we had been involved in this issue from the very genesis of the bill. We've testified before Congress numerous times, and worked hand in glove with VA and others to try to effectuate implementation. So, for us, responding to this problem was a responsible necessity. VoteVets does not appear to have ever submitted testimony on the GI Bill. It also does not have service officers. According to the Clerk of the House website, they do not have any registered lobbyists. VoteVets did, however, do TV commercials in support of the GI Bill wherein they attacked George Bush and John McCain, misrepresenting the positions of both. John McCain's chief complaint about the GI Bill was not the cost, it was the possible effect that the bill would have on retention. And as a result of this concern, an alteration to the bill was made so that active duty service-members could transfer their educational benefits to their dependents. (Sec 3319) Misrepresenting the positions and votes of Members of Congress is nothing new to VoteVets. During the 2004 campaign VoteVets effectively used an advertisement entitled “Body Armor” to defeat several Republican Senators, including this one against Senator George Allen. According to the non-partisan run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center:
A new ad claims Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia “voted against giving our troops” modern body armor. He did no such thing. The ad cites a vote on an appropriations amendment that had nothing whatever to do with body armor but that tactic is often used when the real purpose is to attack the politician rather than influence the debate. The ad also claims troops were sent to Iraq with flak vests “left over from the Vietnam war,” another falsehood. The ad actually shows an improved vest that wasn’t available until the 1980’s.
It is a shame that as numerous organizations came together with the VA and the White House to address the needs of veterans of our most recent conflicts, VoteVets saw an opportunity to score cheap political points. VoteVets is good at getting their folks elected to Congress, and I hope they will stick to that. Leave aiding veterans to organizations like The American Legion who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and work with veterans, citizens and lawmakers to get veterans all they have earned, without a Pavlovian need to check their voter registration first. Lastly, don’t attempt to masquerade as a veteran’s service organization when it is apparent that the real purpose is strictly ideological. Veterans’ issues are not tools to be used to elect candidates; they are real issues to address individuals with real needs.
Posted in Uncategorized, the burner | 27 comments
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[...] of our occasional commenters, Blue Cyclone, writing under the sceen name of Seventh Son at The Burn Pit blows VoteVets out of the water on their claims that they’re non-partisan; It is a shame that [...]

You'd better check them again. they are the farthest thing from non-partisan. In fact, they are a left-wing cover group, funded by the Annenberg Fdn. (National Public radio, and other outrages). Annenberg is currently stonewalling attempts to plumb the depths of the Obama-Ayers connection. Obama is POTUS, Ayers is a terrorist and murderer who probably wrote Obama's memoirs.

I can perhaps buy that argument, but that would only make their disavowing of the VoteVets ad MORE startling, not less. If you are a partisan organization and you anger your own side from a lack of being fact conscious, you really had to have gone out of your way.

[...] all one big lie - as Blue Cyclone pointed out yesterday, VoteVets’ membership is less than 5% veterans. They aren’t dedicated to the [...]

It is risible for a right-wing religious-oriented lobby such as the Legion whose members use pseudonyms to hurl insults at those who don't agree with them to claim that another organization is 'partisan.'

Many moons ago, I was involved with a nonpartisan organization with hundreds of thousands of members nationwide that was well over 100 years old. I came on to lead efforts for diversification in order to further our goal: to bring to the forefront equity and education for women and girls.
Overall, the organization was moderate conservative, though there were also many viewpoints that ran the gamut and range to liberal. One thing for sure --in order to be nonpartisan it took a lot of work, it took adhering to a substantive mission, and the willingness to work with everyone.

In the case of VoteVets, organizationally it' relatively . And here's what happens: they're pulling from the people they know, the people who act like, and think just like them. This doesn't make them bad, but it does make them negligent of overlooking the needs for a diversified board of directors and membership.

But likewise, I have always thought of the AL as conservative and Republican even though you've done a great amount of work for veterans. The challenge for any organization is to stick with the mission, be willing to work with those who are on the opposite side of the fence for the greater good.

"It is risible for a right-wing religious-oriented lobby such as the Legion whose members use pseudonyms to hurl insults at those who don’t agree with them to claim that another organization is ‘partisan.’"

That statement is "risible", especially given the facts in the article.
I will quote a NCO who is currently assigned to a unit in USASOCOM:
"The results of the polling in this country have told me everything that I need to know about half of my "fellow" countrymen.

They are now my enemy and I see zero difference between them and an Al Qaeda operative when it comes to changing this country for the worse.

It’s not about Obama anymore. It’s about a shift in how some Americans think about what America should be. In the end, this change in philosophy can only be settled with the bayonet."

I don't give a bloody damn if you wore the uniform or not, if you believe in the ideals espoused by the modern progressive movement, you are my enemy. I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution, not tear it asunder.

Ha, the American Legion is taking pot-shots at a vets organization which they claim to be politically "biased"? Your organization's hipocrisy knows no bounds. I joined the Legion in 2006 after being discharged from the Army. I thought you guys were a legitimate, unbiased organization until I started receiving local post communique's every month. The communique was very politically charged and, if I remember correctly, only a 1/3 of the communique dealt with veteran issues. I then received a magazine from the Legion which discussed the "Americanization" of youths, which seemed to be more of a political indoctrination program than anything else. Your monthly magazine also seemed to carry a politically undercharged theme in some of its articles. The same problem seems to be rife (although less-so than the Legion) within the VFW. You can't charge another vets organization of political bias when your organization has been involved in politics since the end of World War I. I think the Legion is upset at these new vets organizations because it will possibly lessen their political clout in D.C. There are now a number of vets organizations popping up, mainly through social-media networking, which actually fight for vets (particularly those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan) without the conservative politics.

Karl Clapp- whatever. Vague threats are stupid.

You dare to compare partisian issues when you fully endorse Dick Cheney and Geoerge W Bush and their cheer leading rallies for the past 8 years and you have complaints about left leaning veterans doing some of the exact same things, I think the VAF, The American Legion and all of the veterans groups need to quit being pro republican or pro progressive elected officials. Veterans needs need to become the primary mission of these groups not who gets elected and who keeps the power. In those foxholes no one was asking are you a Republican or a Progressive/Democratic leaning voter, would you protect my back wjile I protected yours, rich, poor, black nor white mattered back then, it was aboout bringing the most of us home alive that we could, there are thousands of poor veterans that are still life long friends with rich veterans, and the reunions are just as sweet now 50 years later as they were 49 years ago. We all need to take the hate out of veterans work and remember what we are working for.

your statement that the Card Check you refer to is the Employee Free Choice Act and does not take away the SECRET BALLOT, but it does give the employees a choice of either.

First off, The American Legion has never endorsed a candidate, so I don't know where you are getting that. Second of all, The American Legion as recently as yesterday issued a press release taking a Republican Senator to task for blocking legislation. We did that after our National Commander met with the Democratic chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Commitee and earlier with the Speaker of the House. If there a specific reference to partisanship that we have engaged in that doesn't stem from one of our legislative mandates as given to us by the resolutions cast at the Annual Convention?

As for right and left, The American Legion has supported fully funding of the VA since its existence. Supporting a government run health care system doesn't tend to place someone on the right of the spectrum If a member does not approve of a position, he can write a resolution asking to have it changed. If someone needs help writing one, my email is at the top of this, siply send me an email and I can help you draft it. You will have to get it passed by your post, then your department, and finally at the National Convention.

The American Legion is made up of individuals of all political stripes and all parties. It is what we do collectively that should count, and if you believe we engage in partisanship, show us where. This week alone we've been working with the White House on a daily basis with regards to the GI Bill. If we are as partisan as you would seemingly have others believe, why would we work with the White House, and why would they work with us?

I think it's very telling that "the 'Americanization' of youths" is considered political indoctrination.

The "Americanization" I assume is a reference to our Americanism and Children and Youth divisions. They run our Boys State and Girls State programs, Boys and Girls Nation, Oratorical contests, American Legion baseball, support for Boy Scouts etc. The Americanism division does immigration and naturalization issues, support for religious freedom issues (like the Mojave cross), support for the flag, flag retirement ceremonies etc. I'm curious as to which of those is so odious. (Honestly.) Either way, they come directly from our four pillars, which stem from the first days of the organization. Our preamble to our constitution even addresses some of them.

So, other than the Check Card disagreement on what it does, which I can see an argument being made on, is there anything specific that Seventh Son (who's identity is openly disclosed in another post) that is incorrect factually?

The idea of the blog here is to discuss these things openly. I hope we can do it with a bit less rancor, but I do understand people feeling strongly in one way or another.

For those who think The American Legion is conservative and/or Republican let me point you to the following set of press releases issued by the organization in the past several months. This is not a complete list but is representative.

March 16, 2009

March 19, 2009

March 27, 2009

April 14, 2009

April 24, 2009

June 15, 2009

July 7, 2009

Sept 24, 2009

I defy anyone to identify a partisan or ideological political agenda in that group. I know that the claim can be made that I have picked and chosen among the press releases to make my point. If someone wishes they can go to

and read every press release issued by the Legion since January 1, 2009. Our positions are public and formed by resolutions from our members.

As regards the claim that we have been involved in politics since our founding. We certainly have. Everyone that works with our elected officials on veterans' issues is involved in politics, like it or not. The distinction that must be drawn however is between being political and being partisan. They are not the same. It is partisanship that the Legion avoids as should all veterans organizations if they truly have veterans' issues as their sole purpose as many claim, a claim that some don't live up to.

Strange how Jon Stolz never mentions that Joe Biden obviously dodged the draft.

The American Legion, VFW and The DAV have pushed Congress and Our Presidents (No matters their Political association) to fund VA Healthcare, Education and Medical Research ( including Effects of Agent Orange, Desert Storm Syndrome ). Politics are not what these Organizations are about. They are about Teaching Our Youth Values, Respect For Our FLag, Proper Disposal of Our Flag and Life Lessons. Scholarships for Nursing Programs are provided, but there are other Scholarships also.
Read the Laws and By Laws.
The Biggest fact for anyone to look at is that Each of these Organizations will Help a Veteran or Family member with a VA claim without them being a Member of that Organization. They will ask you to join, but they want force you and It is not a requirement for them to Represent You at The Regional Office. They have pushed Veterans' Issues through Washington since the Beggining that is the Reason The VA is better now. I know there are some other organizations I have Left out, but the one thing is I know there are Veterans that vote how they want and are not pushed by these Organizations.

Mothax and I have been having a nice conversation, so I thought I'd drop it here as well.

I wasn't disagreeing with you, I was only showing what VoteVets appears to be doing, and also that a commitment to not be like them takes a top down decision from the board. I haven't checked their board, but if they have Gen Clark (who I respect) speaking for them, it would appear their motives are clearly partisan --being that he has attempted to run for the democratic ticket in the past (boy what a dumb decision). They're drawing from an obvious pool of people who think and act like them, rather than casting a wider net. The problems with this is that a group ends up not representing the broad interests of veterans and to become a mouthpiece for politics.

I think that the AL's reputation is conservative and Republican, however their track record belies this perception. The AL has worked on national issues that effect Veterans. Period. If there is any perception created about political affiliation, by all means it's been created along the local levels --often to the detriment of posts that see their numbers dwindling, & their membership growing grayer.

Mind you, this is not a problem unique to organizations. A lot of organizations are facing the same issue: how to attract new members. And the problem is if the perceptions don't match up with the truth, what ends up happening is rather than joining the AL (and using their history, experiences, and resources), they decide to set up VV --and then both sets of veterans end up losing.

So I think it's incumbent upon the AL to find out why people dropped out. One of those has already said when they got their newsletter it was too "right wing."

I think AL does a lot of great work. I know they need to get younger members. I hope your blog will do just that --but remember it will take a top down decision from the board of directors to bring a diverse plank aboard --at every level --local, state and national.

Good luck with your efforts. You are making a GREAT START with the blog. Just remember that what you have on your side is the history of RESULTS of the Legion, and much to draw upon.

To which I'll add:
The value of local AL Posts cannot be emphasized enough. They're the backbone of the organization. Their efforts make it possible to carry out such operations as this blog, and also the website. The challenge is --as it is with all august organizations, is how to attract and retain members. As for membership --it's a no brainer. Just look at what the AL has accomplished! I can't imagine why anyone would *not* try to be involved at some level --whether national, local or virtual.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.