Sen. John Walsh, a former adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, is fighting for veterans’ votes as he tries to hang on to the job to which he was appointed when former senator and now U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus went to China — and one veterans’ group is responding.
Strategically speaking, Walsh needs all the reinforcements he can get. Walsh may not be like Napoleon at Waterloo or Custer at the Little Big Horn, but the former head of the Montana National Guard is in trouble.
The Democrat trails Rep. Steve Daines (R) by 13-to-15 percentage points in the most recent polls conducted of Montana voters by Rasmussen and CEA/Hickman Analytics.
Walsh fired the latest veterans-repeated volley June 10, accusing Daines of failing to support any policies that would “address the root causes” of the recent scandal surrounding VA health services.
This followed Walsh’s demand in the first week of June that the Obama administration change its current policy and allow veterans waiting for healthcare to receive services outside of the Veterans Administration system.
As the first Iraq war veteran to serve in the United States Senate, Walsh has introduced legislation to help address the growing healthcare crisis among veterans. Walsh has also supported legislation to restore cost-of-living increases for future military retiree pensions, expand compensation for family caregivers of disabled veterans, and help secure housing for disabled and low-income veterans.
“It’s not enough for Congressman Daines to talk about fixing problems with the VA,” said John Bennett, one of the Walsh Warriors — another group of military vets supporting Walsh.
Bennett, a retired staff sergeant who served with Walsh in Iraq, also said, “We need someone in Washington who is able to offer real solutions and do what is best for veterans and their families.”
However, Daines said he was one of the first House members to call for the resignation of embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki back on May 7.
“The backlog of cases and long wait times at the VA are a national disgrace,” Daines said in a television ad. “That’s why I called on the Veterans Affairs Secretary to resign, and why I support reforms to hold Washington bureaucrats accountable.”
Daines also accused Walsh of “leading from behind. For nearly a month Walsh played political games – blaming me for the VA’s problems – instead of calling for action.”
Still, VoteVets.org — a national veterans’ group that claims to have more than 400,000 members and is supporting 16 other Democrats in elections across the U.S. — recently launched a television ad in Montana highlighting Congressman Daines’ failure to support veterans, calling Daines “tough on Montana families.”
The ad features a Billings mother of nine children, six of whom served in the Marines, saying Daines hurts military families and veterans.
In the ad, Loraine Tackett says, “Being a mom to nine kids can be tough. Even tougher with Andy and five others in the Marines Corps.”
Her son, Andy, an Iraq War veteran, says, “Iraq vet John Walsh gets that. He supports families like ours, by taking care of our troops and their families, both overseas, and at home.”
“But politician Steve Daines?” asks Lorraine. “He voted against raising troops’ pay and improving veterans’ health services.”
“Steve Daines is tough all right,” they conclude. “He’s tough on Montana’s military families.”
The ad was scheduled to run for a week and a half, across broadcast and cable television, at a cost of $275,000.
This is not the first time VoteVets.org has come to the side of Walsh. The largest progressive group of veterans in America praised the appointment of then-Lt. Gov. Walsh to replace Baucus.
“John Walsh will now be the first Iraq veteran to ever serve in the Senate, and you cannot overstate how important that is,” said Jon Soltz, Iraq war veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org PAC.
Rick Hegdahl, a Navy veteran and the chairman of veteran outreach for VoteVets.org, said, “To have one of our own in the Senate means we have someone who understands the plight of today’s veterans, and knows the true cost of wars that are ill-advised and under-planned.”
Hegdahl expects Walsh will be “a true advocate, in every sense of the word.”
The Daines campaign has attacked Walsh’s performance in office, running an ad in May that accused the Montana Department of Military Affairs of mismanaging taxpayer funds while Walsh was serving as its administrator.
Soltz also warned any political opponents to not attack Walsh’s service, at this time or during the campaign to permanently fill the Senate seat.
“In recent years, more and more politicians have felt comfortable belittling the service of a veteran, who is opposing them in a race,” Soltz said.
“That cannot be allowed to happen, and it isn’t acceptable to us, the community of veterans. We’ll be monitoring the news out of Montana, and will be the first in line to take on anyone who attacks John’s service.”