McCain's rationalization for opposing the bill may not hold water, but his stance makes perfect sense in light of his record. From 2004 to 2006, the Disabled Veterans of America gave him annual scores ranging from 50% to the most recent 20% when it comes to supporting the group's legislative priorities. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave him a grade of "D" in its most recent analysis of voting records. The American Legion says he is dead wrong on the GI Bill, as does the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
When Obama (who has averaged an 86% rating from the Disabled Veterans of America) criticized McCain on the GI Bill, the Arizona senator angrily suggested that Obama's status as a non-veteran rendered his opinions on military matters worthless (an odd stance, as this standard would also discount the opinions of 85% of American men, 98.8% of American women and two-thirds of Congress). Then he invited a look at his own record by asserting, "I take a back seat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans."
So let's take McCain up on his invitation. Here is how he has stood on recent legislation supported by major veterans organizations:
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, June 03, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 17 Editorial pages Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
GI Bill: A May 30 Op-Ed article about the GI Bill said the 1944 bill offered full benefits to any veteran who served 90 days. The bill paid for 12 months of college or vocational school if a veteran served 90 days, with additional benefits, up to 48 months of school, for each month of military service.
* On Webb's GI Bill, he expressed opposition, and he was AWOL when it was time to vote on May 22.
* Last September, he voted against another Webb bill that would have mandated adequate rest for troops between combat deployments.
* On a badly needed $1.5-billion increase for veterans medical services for fiscal year 2007 -- to be funded through closing corporate tax loopholes -- he voted no. He also voted against establishing a trust fund to bolster under-budgeted veterans hospitals.
* In May 2006, he voted against a $20-billion allotment for expanding swamped veterans medical facilities.
* In April 2006, he was one of 13 Senate Republicans who voted against an amendment to provide $430 million for veterans outpatient care.
* In March 2004, he voted against and helped defeat on a party-line vote a $1.8-billion reserve for veterans medical care, also funded by closing tax loopholes.
Before the Senate voted on Webb's GI legislation, McCain offered what he called a compromise bill, but it was rejected. Webb pointed out that there really was no compromise in McCain's proposal because it would have excluded most veterans by offering full education benefits only to those with multiple enlistments, even though 70% to 75% of enlistees leave after one tour.
Compare McCain's stingy standards with the original GI Bill: Any veteran who served 90 days during World War II, in combat or not, earned full benefits. It is Webb's bill that represents the reasonable compromise between the gold standard set for the "greatest generation's" original GI benefits and what is doable in today's economy: a GI Bill that will truly pay for a college education after three years of service, without the onerous payroll deduction.
So here is where the McCain image and reality part company. It is certainly true that his affectionate and respectful rhetoric for America's servicemen and women takes a back seat to no one. But when it comes to improving the health and education of our veterans, McCain's record leaves them stranded by the side of the road.