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Vets take the Sparks stage to stump for candidates
by Jessica Garcia
Oct 21, 2008 | 700 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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For the Tribune/Tony Contini - About 30 local veterans and their families gathered Monday night in Sparks to hear from fellow veterans who were stumping for the two presidential candidates.
Charlie Plumb was five days away from ending his combat tour in north Vietnam with the Navy when his plane was shot down over Hanoi. He was captured, tortured and spent six years as a prisoner of war.

But he'll never forget months later walking through the Hoa Lo Prison prison facility seeing "fluorescent white, glowing hair" and thinking he only knew one fighter pilot with such locks. In an attempt to confirm the pilot's identity, he whistled half of the Navy's song and when the pilot completed the line from inside his cell, Plumb knew it was fellow prisoner John McCain, who was occupying the cell two doors down.

For Plumb, Sen. McCain is the right man for the presidency, an opinion he shared Monday at the American Legion Hall Post 30 in Sparks during a town hall meeting with a representative from McCain’s and Sen. Barack Obama's campaigns.

But for retired Army Col. Phillip Lisagor, Obama would be the breath of change he believes the country needs to better serve those who willingly participated in war.

The meeting, sponsored by Disabled American Veterans' Chapter No. 1, was moderated by Commander Fred Wagar of the DAV. The representatives introduced themselves briefly and described their military service and answered questions submitted by the veterans and family members who attended.

Mandatory versus discretionary funding for medical benefits was a key issue.

"We are the cost of the war," Wagar said. "We want to hear the candidates' feelings on mandatory funding that the (Veterans Administration) used to have and then it became discretionary funding, which means Congress gets to argue how much they're going to give the VA every year. Depending on whose side of the fence you're on, that's good or bad."

In mandatory funding, according to “Retiree Benefits and Assistance Resource Guide” by Sen. Harry Reid’s office, the VA is required to provide hospital care and may offer nursing home care. Discretionary funding may provide both forms of care if resources are available. Veterans who have disabilities that are not related to their service are not considered mandatory. The mandatory category includes service for veterans with a military-connected disability, World War II vets eligible for Medicaid, low-income vets and those in need of treatment for conditions that could be related to herbicides they inhaled while on duty, such as Agent Orange in Vietnam, which was widespread when it was dropped out of planes to kill vegetation and trees for soliders to see the enemy, Wagar said.

Lisagor said mandatory funding would be better.

"In the current war, we're seeing almost 10 wounded for every one killed," Lisagor said. "... We're seeing more people come to the VA. A lot of the problem has been based on World War II vets."

Lisagor said in the last six years, Congress has had a lot "to play with" through discretionary funding and said the government should opt for mandatory instead.

Plumb said discretionary funding is better because it's hard to predict what kind of care veterans will require.

"We don't always know what the needs are going to be," he said.

Lisagor encouraged veterans to remember the presidential race isn't the only one to be mindful of when voting.

"This isn't the only horserace in the derby," he said, exhorting those who attended to remember to vote for representatives of Congress and local offices, as well.

Lisagor said he has never been one to talk about politics, although he admires certain political figures such as former presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy. Plumb said he supports McCain despite some disagreements with some of his policies because of his long friendship and what he stands for for his country.

"I don't agree with a lot of things John McCain does, but I will tell you that there's no question in my mind that ... he is the guy we can trust," Plumb said.

After the forum, Wagar, who served in the Middle East and Kuwait and was in combat in Somalia, said one of the most important issues to veterans today is having their claims processed through the VA and being able to receive treatment.

"We have continually reminded the public and reminded our legislators that veterans must be a priority," Wagar said. "If you're going to fight a war, you've got to fully fund the VA and give the veterans their due."
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