Sunday, March 30, 2008

Walz, who was elected to Congress in 2006, is the highest-ranking enlisted servicemen to ever serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Like the Hecimoviches, Walz also holds the rank of command sergeant major in the Minnesota National Guard.

During the two-week Easter break, Walz has been holding medal ceremonies and veterans forums throughout the 1st District.

Of his three House committee assignments, agriculture, transportation and infrastructure and veterans affairs, the latter has seen his passion for patriots surface repeatedly.

With the global backdrop of more unpopular wars on people’s minds and the weekend’s debut of a state holiday to observe sacrifices made in another unpopular war — Vietnam —- Walz admonished the audience, “Don’t ever make the mistake of confusing the war with the warrior.”

In other opening remarks, he said the nation has both a moral responsibility and an obligation to its security to take care of its soldiers.

He said the Department of Veterans Affairs is getting better at doing that, but, he added, “There’s still a long ways to go.”

To him, it’s a given. “If you spend billions to put soldiers in harm’s way, you spend billions to get them out and then you have to take care of them, too,” he said.

In a free-wheeling comment and question-and-answer period, Walz became a target at one point for criticism, when an unidentified veteran blamed him for not helping the veteran receive benefits.

Walz took the obscenity-laced criticism unflinchingly.

The questions ranged from the unfairness of disability ratings to the lack of mandatory full funding for the VA budget to arbitrarily taking benefits from Level VIII veterans.

A veteran complained of being denied benefits, “because the VA said my hearing loss was due to cutting the grass with a loud lawn mower instead of loading artillery shells.”

Another veteran urged the congressman to continue to push for enforcement of the Veterans Preference law to guarantee veterans their jobs upon returning home from active duty.

A Cold War-era sailor said he was denied benefits even though “I was exposed to two atomic bomb blasts when I was on a ship at sea.”

A Vietnam-era veteran said he was 100 percent disabled after being exposed to Agent Orange chemicals. He went to the Mayo Clinic instead of the VA Hospital in Minneapolis and “now I spend my veteran benefits checks on my medical bills, which are huge.”

While the congressman’s aides took notes to follow-up on veterans’ requests, Walz fielded more questions and heard more complaints.

That was what he apparently wanted to happen.

“The message has been wherever we have gone, ‘Take care of the soldier,’” he said. . . .

Earlier this afternoon, when Walz stepped into the phone banking room, a volunteer handed him a phone almost immediately; she had just called a man who said he had two sons deployed in Iraq and she thought the congressman might want to thank him for his family's service to the country. Once he was off the line, Tim shared more about the family. One of the sons was home on leave because a very young child had died; the soldier only received ten days leave. Walz, the father of two young children, said he would have his congressional staff contact the Pentagon to see if the leave could be extended, then continued phone banking.

Since listening to only half of a phone conversation isn't too exciting, we stepped over to the auditorium where the Olmsted County DFL had convened. Inside, John Pearce, an Army Reservist who served in Iraq and Kuwait, had just begun a passionate speech on Walz's behalf. He spoke first of getting involved in politics because of his disagreement with "national security policy when it came to Iraq."

Pearce had attended Republican events to find out where the three candidates for the GOP noimnation stood. As a veteran he was appalled:

I listened to Randy Demmer at a county convention say, " The number one responsibility of the federal government is national security. When he was done speaking I was left asking myself, "That's it?" He talked about national security but never mentioned the words "Iraq, Afghanistan or Osama bin Laden...

Brian Davis, on the other hand, states his Iraq policy as "we need to stay the course, we need to keep doing what we're doing and we'll have to keep our fingers crossed." We'll have to keep our fingers crossed. That's Davis's plan. Is that what I'm supposed to tell my mother when I have to break her heart again, when I get deployed for a third time? Well Mom, we have no cohesive Iraq strategy but Brian Davis and the GOP have their fingers crossed for me. . .

. . .But Brian Davis also has another saying, "Democrats can't even say the phrase 'Radical Islam' and if they can't say it, how can they fight it?" Well, I can physically say the phrase 'Radical Islam' but choose not to demagogue an entire culture based on a handful of lunatics. As Democrats, we are a party of diversity and we are better that this. Just because I choose not to say the phrase, by no means makes me incapable of fighting terrorism. And now that I think about it, I don't remember seeing Brian Davis or Randy Demmer on any of my 8000 plus miles of Iraq convoys. In fact, the only congressional candidate the [MN-01] Republicans had with military service, they excommunicated....

We talked briefly with Pierce after his speech and were able to get a copy of his words. He had written the text out before the GOP endorsement was known. Powerful stuff, indeed.

more on this story at

News Story Austin Daily Herald Walz fields questions at vets' forum

2008 race, Afghanistan, Iraq War, MN-01, Tim

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