The Democratic National Committee criticized GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for declining an invitation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) convention, saying the former Massachusetts governor has "rejected" America's veterans.
In a statement, Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera said "Mitt Romney's decision to duck America's veterans is a disturbing indication of how far he is willing to go to avoid offering a clear plan for Iraq and defend his blind loyalty to President Bush's failed strategy."
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) addressed the 12,000 veterans in Kansas City, Mo., on Monday, and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) spoke on Tuesday. President George W. Bush will address the VFW and Ladies Auxiliary on Wednesday.
But Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veteran of Foreign Wars, told Cybercast News Service on Tuesday that the VFW's "invitations to Gov. Romney and Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani were turned down due to scheduling conflicts. No other reason."
Romney was campaigning in Nevada on Tuesday.
"He turned them down apparently because raising money in Vegas was more important," said LaVera.
This is the first time that a presidential candidate has addressed the VFW before getting his party's nomination, another sign of how early the campaign process begins in contemporary American politics.
"It is unprecedented to have leading candidates address our organization before they have their respective party's nomination," VFW Commander-in-Chief Gary Kurpius said. "What we want to hear is how, if elected to our nation's highest office, they will prosecute the war on terrorism.
"We want to hear how they will protect America; what their positions are on national security, military readiness and homeland security; and how they will enhance military and veteran healthcare programs, increase benefits, and expand quality of life initiatives," Kurpius added.
"What we don't want to hear are criticisms of the past," said Kurpius, "because the issue at hand is who is best prepared to lead our nation forward."
"The brave men and women serving our country deserve strong, decisive leaders who will defend their positions on the war and outline real plans for addressing the challenges facing our veterans and military families," LaVera added.
"Unlike the Democrats in Congress who passed a pay raise for our fighting forces and the largest increase in veteran's health care in history, Romney is offering America's veterans nothing but more of the same tough talk and empty rhetoric they've seen from the Bush Administration," LaVera said.
"One of the issues that veterans care the most about is obviously the war in Iraq," he told Cybercast News Service.
"Thousands of them are returning from Iraq and want to know what's going to happen. This is a guy who consistently refuses to offer his own plan for the future and just blindly follows the president's lead, so I guess rather than addressing those issues and challenges, he decided to skip the convention all together," LaVera added.
A spokesman for Romney, Alex Burgos, said that the former governor could not attend the convention because of a scheduling conflict. Burgos e-mailed comments to Cybercast News Service about Romney's support for the current "troop surge policy" and also added the following about Romney's plan to strengthen the U.S. military:
"The Clinton Administration also devastated our military capabilities and left us dangerously unprepared. Today we need to add at least 100,000 more troops and commit to spending at least 4 percent of our Gross Domestic Product to the defense of our country," Burgos wrote.
"Promises to support our troops mean little without devoting the resources needed for the equipment, modernization, training, and health care that is critical to our military and their families," Burgos added.
The DNC, in its criticism, further noted that according to reports by the Associated Press, "Romney's decision to duck the VFW comes after he lashed out at an Iraq War veteran who complained that he hasn't been able to get adequate medical care since returning from Iraq in January 2005."
"He was completely ill informed," argued LaVera, "and actively dismissive of this gentleman ... who wasn't receiving care."
But Ramona Joyce, a spokeswoman for the American Legion, said "It doesn't seem to be fair."
"If he's got a scheduling conflict or something like that I don't think it's fair to criticize him," she told Cybercast News Service. "It's partisan politics. It's a completely subjective statement ... I don't understand where they're getting that."
Joyce added that the elections are still far away. "We're so far out in the election cycle that we don't even invite the candidates to our convention," she said.
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