- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the Op-Ed column “Who speaks for veterans?” (Opinion, Thursday), Vets for Freedom senior fellow Gabe Ledeen maliciously impugned the 110-year-old reputation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. because he disagrees with the VFW’s response to a Department of Homeland Security threat assessment of radical extremist groups.

Had Mr. Ledeen actually read the report for what it was - and not for what he thought it meant - he would have seen that it is a poorly written report that merely states an inescapable fact: Extremist groups want to recruit veterans. The report is nothing more.

He then argues against the VFW Political Action Committee’s endorsement of Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, in the last congressional race. Mr. Murtha is certainly known to make foot-in-mouth statements, but he also is a strong advocate for veterans, service members and their families, which is one reason why his constituents have elected him to Congress 19 times.

Mr. Ledeen has the audacity to imply that the VFW needs to recognize its mission “and abandon the petty pandering that continues to stand in the way of real progress and honest representation.”

Oh really?

The VFW helped 95,000 veterans last year to recoup $1.2 billion in earned compensation and pension from the government - for free. We awarded $3.5 million in youth scholarships, volunteered 13 million hours in our communities and Veterans Affairs and military hospitals, gave out $2.5 million in grants to help 1,800 military families through temporary financial emergencies, and distributed 11 million free phone cards to deployed and recuperating military personnel.

On Capitol Hill, the VFW was the first veterans organization to support the Bush administration’s war-on-terrorism objectives. Our lobbying efforts helped create traumatic injury disability insurance, helped devise a 21st-century GI Bill and provided special payments to Vietnam veterans whose children developed spina bifida. The VFW helped defeat the Obama administration’s proposal to bill private health insurance for service-connected care, and it also was instrumental in thwarting previous attempts to create VA enrollment fees and increase prescription co-payments and military Tricare premiums. In addition, the VFW single-handedly got all U.S. airlines to waive third-checked-luggage fees for military travelers.

The VFW takes a back seat to no one. This is why we routinely are asked to testify before Congress on legislation that affects programs for America’s veterans and service members.

Never has a Vets for Freedom representative been seated next to us at the witness table, which leads me to restate Mr. Ledeen’s original question: “Who speaks for veterans?”

Success in Washington requires being pragmatic about issues without leaving enemies in your wake. I would suggest the next time Vets for Freedom - or one of its members - decides to challenge a military or veterans service organization, he or she does it in person and does not sit on the sidelines using the press as a shield.

GLEN M. GARDNER JR.

National commander

Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.

Round Rock, Texas

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