U.S. Sen. Scott Brown didn’t arrive at the Mottolo Post last Friday in a suit and tie, and he wasn’t ushered out of a Town Car or a black SUV with tinted windows.
Instead, he arrived wearing his signature Carhart jacket on top of a simple shirt and tie.
He mixed in the back of the hall prior to the meeting very easily – even with those locally who are staunch Democrats and have no intention of supporting him this fall. He was on the level with everyone and seemed to know a great deal about Revere without any prompting.
“You’ve got to do something about that traffic in front of Necco, Mayor Rizzo,” he said casually as he removed his coat and settled in for the discussion, flanked by Mayor Dan Rizzo, several city councillors and some local supporters. “I love Necco candy, but that traffic is tough there.”
But Brown quickly asserted that he wasn’t there for a campaign stop or to talk turkey with local politicians. Rather, he said he was there to talk serious veterans issues with the intimate crowd that had gathered, and after being introduced by Post Commander Dennis Moschella, Sen. Brown did just that.
And he started with a story from the front lines.
He told the audience that he had been on diplomatic trips to Afghanistan, but had received an insider’s view last summer when he completed a National Guard training operation in Afghanistan (he’s currently a lieutenant colonel in the Guard). He said he was able to talk with the soldiers one-to-one and learn more than any diplomatic trip could yield.
“I was in full battle armor and I went down to breakfast and saw some guys and asked if I could eat with them,” he told the crowd. “I asked them about the [diplomatic missions] and the guys said they were nice, but they were not usually able to talk to them about real issues. They told me it was usually kind of a dog and pony show and that the soldiers didn’t usually get to speak to the legislators.
“I asked them what they’re most pressing issues were and they told me, not knowing who I was,” he continued. “I said to them, ‘What if I could get these things solved for you? What if I could get them done or addressed quickly?’ They told me, ‘Sir, with all due respect, you’re only a lieutenant colonel and I don’t think it’s that easy.’ I told them that I was actually a U.S. Senator, and I thought I could get something done. They jumped to attention and everything changed, but what happened was I learned their true issues.”
The story resonated with the mostly-veteran crowd – a room that was packed with Vietnam vets, spouses of veterans and a smattering of World War II veterans as well. Alongside them were a cadre of media members from local, state and national organizations.
All listened intently as he spoke in animated fashion.
“When we enter into a contract with people in Afghanistan, if we find out they’re a criminal element – that our money is actually going to the people who want to kill us – we can’t terminate that contract,” he said emphatically.
“Unbelievable, why?” asked someone in the crowd.
“That right, why?” asked Brown. “That’s what I said, why? It’s because of the legal protections we afford people and the due process that we go through and that’s wrong, number one.”
He also touched on a Department of Defense regulation that eliminates about $1,500 per month from soldiers’ salaries, hurting spouses back home.
Both things, he said, he found on his training last summer and was able to correct.
“The trip was worth it for those two things alone,” he said.
One of the major points that was made during Brown’s presentation was his displeasure with the new proposal by President Barack Obama’s administration to make cuts to TRICARE, the military’s healthcare plan.
He said he was adamantly against the newly proposed cuts.
“When I was running two years ago and they were trying to pat-push through ObamaCare, I said that they were going to cut the TRICARE,” said Brown. “They said, ‘No, no, no, you’re all set.’ Well, here we are a little more than two years later and that’s what they’re trying to do. Now they’re going to be raising the premium and I think eventually they’ll be trying to cut TRICARE altogether and morph you into Medicare or some other program.”
He said he found that situation frustrating.
“It’s really frustrating,” he said. “We should be looking at me and my staff, the judges, the administration and their staffs before we look at veterans. We should be affected first. Instead, they’re going after veterans first. That’s not right.”
Following his presentation, Brown took several impromptu questions from the audience.
One concern raised by two veterans in the audience, one being Raymond Barry of the Chelsea Soldiers Home, was that many Vietnam Navy veterans are suffering from Agent Orange poisoning because they transported the chemical on ships to the battlefront. However, because they never had “boots on the ground” during he conflict, they don’t qualify for treatment claims.
“We only transported it, but people like myself that did transport Agent Orange are dying of cancer and prostate cancer and can’t get care,” he said. “I put a claim in for it three times and I was denied three times…It’s easier for me to get PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) claims than for this…I can’t do what I used to be able to do and I’m only 58.”
Others were riled up about the cuts to TRICARE, saying the government was backing out of an agreement long after the game was over.
And Brown stood right by them, expressing his outrage and indicating that he wasn’t going to be a “social crusader,” but rather a “jobs crusader.”
By and large, he looked prepared, knowledgeable and a man with a fresh set of ideas somewhat outside of the typical Massachusetts political mantra. Mostly, he looked to be at the ready to do political battle with the Democrats and their candidate, Elizabeth Warren.
But he added one caveat so as not to scare any lifetime Democrats in the audience, reassuring them that he wasn’t the kind of Republican that was bent on ideology and hampered by party lines.
“I’m the second most bi-partisan Senator in the nation,” he said. “I vote with my party 54 percent of the time. Don’t think we don’t want to get things done down there. There are Democrats and Republicans down there pushing our leadership to tackle the important issues. Don’t give up here quite yet. Give us a chance to continue to put pressure on our leaders.”