Veterans endorse Sanders for U.S. House

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(Host) Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders has been endorsed by a leading veterans organization, even though Sanders voted against a plan to give President Bush the authority to take military action against Iraq.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) According to the Vermont chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Sanders’ efforts to improve the lives of veterans in the state are much more important than his recent vote on Iraq.

Ed Laviletta, who is the head of the VFW’s political action committee, says his group considered a wide range of issues as part of its endorsement policy. Laviletta says the vote giving the President the power to initiate military action against Saddam Hussein was just one factor in the process:

(Laviletta) “But if you put all the issues together, okay, and weigh out the issues – his support for our VA system and everything like that – we can’t ask for anything higher. Everything is taken in a factor, of course. There are votes for and against. We understand that.”

(Kinzel) Laviletta says the biggest issue facing veterans in Vermont is access to affordable health care. Laviletta says the VA Hospital in White River Junction is putting people on a waiting list for care because Congress has failed to appropriate enough money for these programs. Laviletta says Sanders has been a strong advocate for Vermont veterans on this issue:

(Laviletta) “We feel it’s a national disgrace that our Congress and the president hasn’t give us the funding in the budget for the VA system. They’re sending the wrong message to our troops overseas. Our warriors are in harm’s way. What are they going to think when they come back and they get hurt, when they get wounded. And what’s going to be down the road for them when they’re warriors of the past? Are we going to take care of them? It doesn’t look like it. Our waiting list that we have now in the VA system is obscene.”

(Kinzel) Laviletta says he’s very concerned about the availability of health care services for veterans who are not already part of the VA system. He says this is a major issue because the VA issued a memo this summer urging its network directors not to make veterans aware of their health care benefits because of the current budget situation.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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