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"We used to be a leader," a current Legion staffer said. "Now we ride coattails."
In late 2017, John McCain and Jerry Moran, two senior Republican senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, penned the first draft of what would become the VA Mission Act, a transformational law that paved new pathways to private sector healthcare for veterans.
The Mission Act essentially made permanent the VA Choice Act, a controversial 2014 law passed in the wake of a wait-time scandal at a Phoenix veterans' hospital. The Choice Act became unpopular among veterans' advocates for a variety of reasons, including that it represented a major step towards the privatization of VA services.
Among the harshest critics of Choice was the American Legion, the oldest and, arguably, most influential veterans' organization in America.
In 2017 congressional testimony, Legion legislative staffer Jeff Steele tore into the law's many problems, declaring veterans "have not found [Choice] to be a solution."
"Instead," Steele said, "they have found it to create as many problems as it solves."
Perhaps hoping to stem any criticism, McCain and Moran sought feedback on their legislation from the Legion before making it public. After the organization's then-legislative director, Lou Celli, read a draft bill at home over one weekend, he felt it went against the best interests of veterans, and would further crack open the door to privatization. A major complaint of Celli's was that the bill completely stripped the agency of the right to coordinate care for veterans based on medical need.
Rather than communicate those concerns productively, Celli, in an apparent act of anger, took the bill out into his backyard, and lit it on fire. The legislation's ashy remains were then photographed, and eventually circulated around Capitol Hill.
President Donald Trump defended as "well meaning" the head-scratching effort by military brass to prevent the commander-in-chief from seeing the name of his Republican rival on the Navy warship that bears his name.
Trump reiterated his signature insult that he "was not a fan" of McCain, inexplicably reigniting his feud with the war hero who died of brain cancer this year.
President Donald Trump wants to honor former prisoners of war, even if he prefers U.S. service members who, you know, weren't prisoners of war.
'Let's see those X-rays' — Vietnam vet ex-senator challenges Trump to prove bone spurs kept him out of the military
Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey wants President Donald Trump to prove that the bone spurs that purportedly kept him from serving in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War are real.
With the recent death of legendary Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, many of his colleagues are wondering how they can best honor his legacy. Some think it could be to rename a building in his honor. Others have stood and given passionate speeches in praise of the Republican "Maverick" and Vietnam War hero.
Few lawmakers have ridiculed wasteful Pentagon spending or scolded military officials from the Senate floor, hearing rooms, campaign events and in reports as often as Sen. John McCain did.