By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Vera is careful not to bash his fellow vet — at least, not too much.
"John McCain, his staff has really tried to be a source of information and a source of assistance, but I think that, over the past five or six years, his office has become overwhelmed," he says. "There's a case overload. Clearly running for president is what his priority is now."
So Vera went to Congressman Ed Pastor's office. (He'd worked for Pastor, a Democrat, previously, doing constituent services.) And although Vera's a smart, well-connected guy, it still took him 10 months to qualify for benefits from the VA, which diagnosed him with a full-blown case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"In the military they tell you what to do and they give you the services because they want a fit force," Vera says.
Once he got home, he adds, things changed. He's now a member of Vote Vets.
Things changed drastically for Brian Callan when he came home, too.
Callan, a veteran of the first Gulf War, was shot by police in the parking lot of a Toyota dealership in Phoenix in 2001. It was obviously a suicide; Callan egged on the cops.
He had been diagnosed with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and his family felt strongly that he didn't get adequate services from the VA; New Times' examination of medical records and a comparison to recommended treatment protocol confirmed that ("Welcome Back Warrior," Paul Rubin, November 21, 2002).
Callan's mother, Jerri Glover, who now lives in New Mexico, recalls that Brian was a big fan of John McCain. He wrote the senator letters on random topics such as the collapse of the Enron Corporation. Two months after his death, Glover approached the senator's local veterans affairs staffer, Tom McCanna, and asked him to help her get the information she needed to file a tort claim against the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Phoenix. The family felt strongly that poor medical treatment led to Callan's behavior and ultimate death.
She still has a copy of the typewritten letter she sent to McCanna, dated November 14, 2002. After she didn't hear from McCain's office, she put a sticky note on the letter: "McCanna never followed thru — did not receive forms."
Callan's mother tried the local Veterans Administration office, with no luck. Finally, a friend of Brian's spent hours on the Internet and found the forms. The claim was denied.
Glover was disappointed, and not, she says, because she wanted the money for herself.
"I really wanted to sue the shit out of the government and then start up a clinic to help the PTSD vets," Glover says. "That was my whole idea. I did not want other guys to suffer like Brian did, in not getting any help."
She's quick to add that later, when she couldn't get the Navy to release Callan's medical records, McCain's office finally expedited the request. But what the Navy finally sent was a mess, with pages missing and out of order, barely usable.
"When I received them, it was a farce," Glover says.
"They can spend a billion a week on a war, but they can't spend whatever it takes to heal the [people] they've ruined?" she says.
"It just makes you lose faith," she adds. "I just thought that his office would help represent his constituent who was so loyal to McCain. And to his country."
John McCain's treatment of his constituents is best described as benign neglect. For years, many Arizonans have referred to their senior senator as "the senator from Washington, D.C." He's more interested in the national platform than the home trenches.
But it's on the national stage where McCain's performance has been the most disappointing to his fellow veterans.
Since 1987, McCain has voted against dozens of measures designed to assist veterans. Most recently, he skipped the vote on the Webb-Hagel 21st Century GI Bill, which funds higher education for post-9/11 veterans with a sliding payment scale depending on length of duty and disabilities sustained.
Alfredo Gutierrez was a longtime McCain fan; the two met when McCain first arrived in Arizona, and although they're in different political parties, the Democratic former majority leader of the Arizona State Senate always spoke highly of McCain — mainly because both men served in Vietnam.
But Gutierrez is furious with McCain over his voting record, particularly on the GI Bill.
"I came back from the Army, and if it wasn't for the GI Bill, I surely wouldn't have made it through college. The only way I got started and I ran for office was because I could afford a house was because of the GI Bill," Gutierrez says.
"So this guy who has built a whole political career on his status as a veteran and a POW," he continues, "he'll vote to send the guys to war . . . but he won't vote for the GI Bill. That's pretty amazing. It's stunning stuff to me. It's the height of hypocrisy."
And, Gutierrez adds, it goes beyond the GI Bill. "His voting record is abysmal."
Here are a few examples of pro-veteran legislation that didn't get McCain's support: