During the weeks leading up to the 2012 November elections, campaign surrogates crisscrossed Nevada on behalf of their respective presidential candidates.
The Democrats were quiet in most of the rural counties campaigning for President Obama who, instead, made his own frequent stops in Las Vegas and Reno.
Days before the election, Beau Biden, the son of the vice president, came to Northern Nevada and campaigned for his father and the president during a meet-and-greet campaign rally at a Fernley residence. While the younger Biden and I did not share the same vision for the country, we did have common ground when discussing veterans’ issues.
Although Biden lived on the East Coast serving as Delaware’s attorney general, we both served as officers in the Army National Guard. Biden served in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 and although I did not deploy to a war zone, I traveled to Afghanistan in November 2011 as a civilian journalist to report on Nevada Army guardsmen.
Veterans’ issues were close to Biden’s heart as they are to mine. One of the political decisions affecting the military in 2012 focused on sequestration and how drastic cuts to all the services could hurt their readiness. Beau Biden said Congress had to look at sequestration’s effects after the election and not allow the process to gut out the military.
Before the bubble popped on the Veterans Administration’s way of inadequately managing health care for many returning vets, Biden said he was concerned the VA’s budget would be cut. About 35 percent of the VA’s budget went to the care of returning veterans. Nearly three years ago, about 50,000 veterans suffered injuries. Thousand more suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
While Biden focused on VA care, I told him of my encounter with many Nevada guardsmen on my first trip to Afghanistan who faced an uncertain future because they did not have jobs waiting for them after their deployment. Under Gov. Sandoval and his then director of veterans services, Caleb Cage, the state and Nevada National Guard addressed unemployment among the ranks in early 2012 and began to organize job fairs and training. He was impressed because Nevada was proactive in helping its own who deployed overseas.
Earlier in 2012, though, a jobs bill died in the U.S. Senate because 40 Republicans voted against it. Not only was the defeat a shock to us but it also drew sharp rebuke from the major military organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, however, voted for it.
“This is a jobs bill for veterans,” Biden said, adding that the government had also provided tax credits for businesses to hire veterans and education benefits were expanded to spouses and children.
As the political rally neared to an end, Biden asked me to send him copies of my stories about Nevada’s guardsmen serving in Afghanistan. I also sent stories of my second trip that began days after the 2012 election. He thought it was a bonus that I had the opportunity to embed with the troops and learn of their feelings.
Biden also extended an invitation to visit him in Delaware if I ever traveled to that part of the country. Unfortunately, I never did.
As I reflect back at that short afternoon meeting in Fernley and now think of the health issues he later encountered — including brain cancer which ultimately cut his life short at age 46 — the National Guard brotherhood knows no boundaries. We may have had philosophical divisions on how the country should be run, but when it came to helping our servicemen and women, very little difference existed between brothers in arms.
Steve Ranson, who spent 28 years in the military before retiring five years ago, is editor of the LVN.