A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

McCain’s Veteran Voting Record


Q: Does McCain have a perfect voting record according to veterans’ groups?

A: Well, the two groups McCain cited at a recent town hall event don’t even dole out ratings. He has received awards from those groups, however.

FULL QUESTION

Sen. McCain had a verbal exchange with a Vet today, and I’d like to suggest that FactCheck.org tell us who’s right:

McCain: My friend, all I can say is I don’t know what you’re pointing to, but I’ve received every award from every major veterans’ organization in America. I’ve received every organization in America their awards. … So I don’t know what bill you’re referring to and I don’t know what you’re referring to and I’ll be glad to have you refer to it. But the reason why I have a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and all the other veterans’ service organizations is because of my support of them. But you can go ahead and respond if you want to. …

Veteran:
I’ll respond by saying this, that you do not have a perfect voting record by the DAV and the VFW. That’s where these votes are recorded. And the votes were proposals … by your colleagues in the Senate to increase health care funding of the VA in 2003, 4, 5 and 6, for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And you voted against those proposals. I can give the specific Senate votes, the numbers of those Senate votes right now.

McCain: Well I thank you and I’ll be glad to examine what your version of my record is. … Again, I’ve been endorsed in every election by all of the veterans organizations that do that, I’ve been supported by them, and I’ve received their highest awards from all of those organizations. So I guess they don’t know something you know. So I thank you very much and I will continue to be proud of my support of the veterans of this country, and proud of their support. …

FULL ANSWER

The liberal blogosphere is aflutter about a video posted on YouTube of a town hall meeting last week in Denver with Sen. John McCain.

In the video, a man identifies himself as a veteran and challenges McCain on his voting record on veterans’ issues. (We edited our reader’s transcript of the exchange slightly to correct a few minor errors.) During his response, McCain mixed truth with fiction.

Scoring the Votes

He said that he had "a perfect voting record from organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion." But we called both of those groups, and they told us they don’t even release congressional scorecards. In fact, the American Legion’s constitution prohibits it.

The veteran in this exchange was also wrong in saying McCain doesn’t have a perfect voting record with the VFW (since such a record doesn’t even exist). However, he is correct in that McCain doesn’t have a perfect score with DAV (Disabled American Veterans), a group of 1.3 million disabled veterans that supports more funding for veterans health care. McCain has a 20 percent record of voting the way DAV would like him to in 2006. The group is nonpartisan, but its 100 percent rankings disproportionately go to Democrats: 207 Democrats in Congress and only 13 Republicans received scores of 100 percent in 2006. Senators were evaluated on five votes for amendments that would have increased funding for veterans’ health care.

We don’t know to which of McCain’s votes this veteran was referring. But we’ll note that we recently criticized an AFL-CIO ad that said McCain voted against increasing health care benefits for veterans, when McCain actually voted against Democratic measures but for alternative measures to boost funding by smaller amounts.

Award Winner

McCain was closer to the truth when he said that he has "received every award from every major veterans’ organization in America." He won the 1995 Congressional Award from the VFW and that is the only award the group specifically gives to legislators. In 1992, McCain also won the VFW’s Americanism Award, which is "awarded to an individual for outstanding contribution to Americanism principles." Other past winners include former AFL-CIO President George Meaney, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, actor John Wayne and the company FedEx.

The American Legion gives out a Distinguished Public Service Award, which McCain has never won. But he has won "at least three or four Legislator of the Year Awards earlier in his career" from the Legion’s Arizona office, according to state Legislative Chairman Paul Griffin.

Finally, McCain said that he has "been endorsed in every election by all of the veterans organizations that do that." The two major groups McCain mentioned earlier – the VFW and American Legion – do not endorse political candidates. However, the VFW has a PAC that has endorsed McCain in every congressional race in which he has run since 1984.

–Justin Bank and Lori Robertson

Update, July 15: We originally reported that the VFW PAC had endorsed McCain in every congressional election since 1992. Joe Davis, VFW director of public affairs, called us back to say that actually the PAC had endorsed McCain since 1984.

Sources

Interview with Paul Griffin, Legislative Chairman, Arizona State American Legion. Conducted 11 July 2008. 

Interview with Joe Davis, Director of Public Affairs, VFW. Conducted 11 July 2008.

Interview with Steve Robertson, American Legion, Legislative Affairs. Conducted 11 July 2008.

Federal Vote Scorecard. U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, Second Session. Disabled American Veterans, accessed 11 July 2008.

Federal Vote Scorecard. U.S. House, 109th Congress, Second Session. Disabled American Veterans, accessed 11 July 2008.