09/23/08 — Obama advisers speak to veterans

View Archive

Obama advisers speak to veterans

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 23, 2008 1:35 PM

Two of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's top military and foreign policy advisers were in Goldsboro Monday, and among the topics they discussed was veterans benefits.

Talking to a crowd comprised mostly of veterans, the pair highlighted several points, including the ratings given to the candidates by the Disabled American Veterans, a non-partisan advocacy group for disabled veterans, their families and survivors.

According to the group's scorecard from 2005 and 2006, the most recent available, Obama received a rank of 80, while Republican nominee Sen. John McCain received only a 20 -- based on the percentage of the time they voted in favor of DAV-supported legislation.

An Obama administration, said the advisers -- retired Air Force Gen. Scott Gration and Sarah Sewall, faculty director for the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and teacher at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University -- would be more friendly to the military and veterans than McCain.

It was a sentiment that many in the crowd seemed prepared to believe, despite McCain's military record.

"We're two different veterans," said Vietnam War Army veteran Benjamin Holloway. "We were in the jungle. We weren't in a hotel. We knew what was going on. He wasn't in the jungle."

"I'm judging both on their actions, and Sen. Obama has shown action," added Larnell Reece, who retired from the Air Force after the first Gulf War.

Tops among the issues concerning the veterans were mental health programs and basic health care -- the ability to access care without going to the large veteran hospitals and centers, and the need for programs to help veterans facing post-traumatic stress syndrome and thoughts of suicide.

And right now, the lack of movement on both of those issues, Gration said, is symptomatic of the George W. Bush administration and the policies they accuse McCain of promising to carry on.

"(Obama) will protect the special trust that America has with its men and women in uniform," Gration said.

The problem, he continued, is that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has not been sufficiently funded for the last eight years.

"(Obama's) talking about full funding," Gration said. "He wants to make sure our veterans are taken care of right up front.

"It's a whole different attitude."

But veterans' issues weren't the only topic up for discussion Monday.

The pair also discussed how Obama's outlook on the world and foreign policy is different from that of Bush and McCain, whose world view is rooted in a "Cold War mentality," Ms. Sewall said.

"It's a vision that looks forward, and a vision that understands what's different about the world today," she said.

And, she continued, it's not an issue of experience, noting Obama's original opposition to the war in Iraq, his call for a withdrawal timetable, his concerns about Pakistan's democracy, his willingness to talk to countries like Iran, and his stance on the need to re-focus on Afghanistan and al-Qaida.

"He has taken positions contrary to the conventional wisdom, and he has proven to be right," she said. "He has led the foreign policy and national security debate in this country."

And for Goldsboro resident James Moore, those were the kinds of arguments he was looking to hear when he made the decision to attend the forum at the W.A. Foster Center.

"To get information, you have to go to sources you can rely on," he said.