Republicans and Tea Party types say they respect the men and women of the military. If respect means wrapping yourself in the flag and sending young people off to die, so it is. Back home again, it's another story. Conservatives cracking down on social welfare spending hits veterans especially hard, since homelessness, unemployment, medical care and mental health needs are major issues of theirs.
Fed up with the phony stance of the political right, local liberals are meeting tomorrow night to organize a Palm Beach County chapter of the Florida Democratic Veterans Caucus. Though you don't have to be a veteran to attend and join (you do have to be a Democrat) they're hoping for a significant turnout. There are an estimated 115,000 military veterans living in Palm Beach County, 1200 of them vets of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two WPB vets are walking point on tomorrow's patrol, both of them active in locally based non-profits. Bobby Simeone is president of the group Children of Wounded Warriors, still embryonic. Carlton Cartwright's Children's Coalition has been up and running 20 years, training kids in arts and technology. Since 2005, Cartwright's group has included a Veteran's History Project, compiling oral histories on videotape for the Library of Congress.
The statewide Democratic Veterans Caucus of Florida outlines three major goals:
1. Promote the election of Democratic veterans at all levels - local, state, and national. 2. Encourage non-veteran, Democratic candidates who support veterans' issues. 3. Increase involvement of all Democratic veterans in the electoral process as candidates, policy experts and advisors, and campaign volunteers.
Citing the needs of vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, the often arduous process of accessing the VA, and the frequent lack of sound information on available benefits, Cartwright sees the caucus as a vehicle to "help vets get the services they deserve, and that they've earned."
More detail on specific issues of concern to the group are here.
One that jumped out at us was advocacy of "veteran's courts," a diversion program (rehab, not jail) along the line of pilot projects currently underway in Sarasota, Manatee, and Desoto Counties. FLDemVets estimates vets make up one-fifth of all U.S. prison inmates, often for non-violent crimes, many with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Do Democrats hope to gain political advantage from the new caucus? No doubt. Do veterans have issues that deserve a hearing? Clearly they do. If Democrats can effectively address them, that will be political advantage fairly won.
PBC DemVets: Monday, May 20, at 7 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Lantana Branch Library, 4020 Lantana Road, Lantana (corner of Lawrence Rd. & Lantana Rd.).
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