New Trick for an Old Dog
Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before. I went to my Congressman’s office to meet with his staff and present my concerns to him. Letters, phone calls, emails and petitions have been my primary means of communicating with my representatives but yesterday’s meeting was a step up–an escalation, so to speak.
I was not alone. I was part of a delegation of constituents organized by Liz, a local Code Pink member. All of us are active in the Coalition to End the War here in Phoenix and individual groups such as Military Families Speak Out, Women in Black, Code Pink and Veterans for Peace. Although our Congressman, John Shadegg, is pretty much a rubber stamp Republican, he is the only one we have. In Arizona’s Third District, you go with the Congressman you have, not the one you wish you had.
That the meeting occurred at all was testament to Liz’s perseverance. She has pursued Arizona’s Congressional delegation doggedly in support of her anti-war and anti-torture efforts. As a result, we had a 30 minute opportunity to present our views to a staff member. In the event, ten of us spent almost an hour talking to Shadegg’s staff member who handles military and veterans issues.
Liz asked me to open the discussion. I led off with my basic points that the war in Iraq is a catastrophic mistake and that the US needs to pursue regional diplomacy and cooperation with our allies to bring it to an end so that this nation is not bled to death as intended by Al-Qaeda’s strategy. Other members of the group re-iterated my comments. All of us submitted letters to the Congressman. Mine focused on the shortcomings at Walter Reed Hospital and several veterans bills now pending in Congress.
The staffer reminded us that Representative Shadegg does not support our position, that he believes in the president’s strategy for additional troops. She was being honest with us and certainly none of us expected him to change. We did, however, point out that we want to open a dialogue with him. We believe that as our representative he has the obligation to meet, listen to and explain his policies to all of his constituents, not just his political base. We noted that he participated in only one debate with his Democratic opponent in 2006 and does little to publicize his schedule so that constituents can meet with him.
One of the more interesting exchanges came when I and our Military Families representative pointed out how little Americans other than service members and their families sacrifice in the war. The staffer asked what kind of sacrifice we are talking about and we quickly offered examples: higher taxes to purchase the equipment needed and medical care for veterans, the Bush twins enlisting in the military, corporations sacrificing huge profits for the good of the country. Our criticisms must have hit home because she responded that military service is voluntary so Representative Shadegg’s children are not required to serve. We asked why, if this war is “the calling of a generation” (as our senior Senator and George Bush insist), aren’t they volunteering? One of us recommended a military draft if the danger is so dire.
In all, I would describe the meeting was an ideological standoff because I don’t think any minds were changed. On the other hand, the meeting was a success in that we established contact with our Congressman, clearly stated that we represent a majority of opinion in the Third District and expected to meet with Representative Shadegg down the road.
Score a point for representative democracy. We’ll see what it’s worth.
Note: I'll update this post if meeting paticipants note any errors or omissions.
Here's my letter to Representative Shadegg:
Recent Washington Post articles on the deplorable conditions for outpatient service members at Walter Reed Medical Center illustrate a serious national failure to support men and women injured in service to the country. As a veteran, I find this failure to be a breach of trust, an appalling reminder that in spite of all the words of support for service members, this nation remains unable to care for them when they are injured. I am pleased to see that the articles have spurred a frenzy of corrective action at Walter Reed, but I ask you as a member of Congress to follow up with the Defense Department to determine how conditions could have been allowed to deteriorate to the abysmal levels described by the Washington Post. If the Army’s premier medical facility has failed injured service men and women so badly, what conditions are likely at other, less visible facilities? I urge you and your colleagues to aggressively pursue this matter to ensure that all wounded service members are provided the care they have so rightly earned.
Several bills now pending before Congress will improve services for our veterans. I ask that you support HR 327, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act introduced by Representative Leonard Boswell and 126 other Representatives. HR 327 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop and carry out a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. Named for Joshua Omvig, one of many Iraq war veterans who have committed suicide as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder developed as a result of their combat experience, this bill would prevent Iraq war veterans and their families from suffering the high rate of suicide that occurred among Vietnam veterans.
I also request that you sponsor a House companion bill for S117, the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act of 2007. This bill would fulfill the promise this nation has made to the men and women who serve by requiring post-deployment medical and mental health screenings within 30 days after deployment, providing each member an electronic copy of all military records and ensuring appropriate outreach to members of the National Guard and reserves concerning benefits and services available upon discharge or deactivation.
This legislation will go a long way toward providing real support for our troops that is more than just words. Another bill will correct an oversight from a previous war. HR 23, the Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2007 will provide benefits to qualified members of the Merchant Marine who served over 60 years ago. Although the Merchant Marine was an integral part of America’s war effort, without which victory would have been impossible, they received no benefits after the war. Members of the Armed Forces, in contrast, received generous educational and housing benefits. It is time to recognize the important service rendered by the Merchant Mariners.
Thank you for supporting America’s veterans.
Veterans for Peace Chapter 75