Angry veterans forming new group

CLEVELAND — Veterans in Ohio are fighting for a new Patriot Act. The difference is that this one is actually patriotic. The vets are lobbying the Republican-dominated Legislature to pass a bill that will block evictions, foreclosures and discharges from their jobs when soldiers are called into service. A delegation of Ohio vets is preparing to travel to Milwaukee, Wis., to participate in the founding convention of a new progressive veterans organization Feb. 24-27.

The Ohio bill, HR 426, was introduced by state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D) and Rep. Peter Uvagi (D), both of Toledo, after a series of highly publicized discriminatory acts against soldiers in Ohio during the Iraq war.

Sgt. Preston Anderson, a shift supervisor at a tire store in Carrolton, Ohio, was fired two months after being called to service in Iraq. The reason given for his firing was “failure to supervise.” While he was in Iraq, his mother and the women from her local church raised money to buy an armored vest for him. The Army was unable to provide him with one. Sgt. Anderson will be in full uniform when he lobbies the Ohio Legislature to actually “support the troops.”

This past summer, Ohio state worker Lt. Brandon Ratliff committed suicide after he was denied the promotion he’d earned at the Columbus Health Department. He was denied the promotion because he was called to service in Afghanistan.

It was stories like these that drove Cliff Hayes, a marine combat veteran who served in Vietnam, to help launch a new progressive veterans’ organization, Veterans for Progress. Hayes spent his entire working life at the Federal Aviation Administration and was a leader of Veterans for Kerry in the past election. Hayes will be part of the lobbying group and will lead the Ohio delegation to the national founding convention of Veterans for Progress.

“We need a real national political group that will fight for veterans,” Hayes said, pointing out there are 19 million combat veterans in the United States. “We need to get out and run for office. We know what it’s really like, and it’s not good for soldiers or for vets.”

Hayes, who earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Youngstown State University, said that Bush talks about Christianity, but doesn’t follow its teaching. “It’s time to stop this unjust war and take care of the people, the families that had to fight it and all the people that had to suffer.”

Hayes said that delegations of veterans are expected from many states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as Ohio. Many will be representing former Veterans for Kerry groups, but independent veterans and members of other groups should also be on hand. Military families and supporters of veterans’ causes are also welcome, he stressed.

Veterans for Progress will “work at building close ties to the labor movement,” Hayes said.

The theme of the Veterans for Progress founding convention is “NUTS.” Hayes explained that today vets are saying “NUTS” to the right-wing regime that currently occupies the White House, and that Bush doesn’t have a mandate on veterans’ issues.

This theme recalls the heroic stand put up by World War II American GIs at Bastogne, Belgium. Freezing in the sub-zero winter of 1944, they were surrounded and heavily outnumbered by Nazi forces that had overrun American lines at the Battle of the Bulge. U.S. commander General MacAuliffe received the Nazi demand for surrender. His reply was simply “NUTS!”

bruce@imaginenet.net