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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

Our Veterans need defenders, not pretenders

Thursday, August 17th

Dear Friends:

I don’t get angry often. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you they can’t recall the last time they saw me bent out of shape. I think the Bible says something about being quick to listen and slow to anger, and I’ve always taken that advice to heart. (Now that I’m a candidate for office, it seems that a lesson in patience is even more important.) But upon reflection, I can tell you one thing: all the times I have become angry hold one thing in common.

I reserve my fury for anyone who disrespects our veterans.

Take last week, for example. You’ve probably read about Senator Tommy Tuberville blocking the confirmation of three of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as 300 other vital flag officer appointments because he disagrees with the Pentagon’s policy of covering travel costs for servicemembers who must visit another state for abortion services. It’s pure grandstanding, but it’s also putting the lives of our servicemembers in jeopardy. Tuberville has never served, and yet he sees nothing wrong with using the lives of our military members as a bargaining chip.

Tuberville’s actions are outrageous and disgraceful, and I stand with my friend and fellow veteran Pat Ryan in denouncing this despicable stunt. But honestly, that’s not even the part that makes me most angry. No, my true disdain is reserved for all the pretenders out there.

What is a pretender? Well, when you say you support veterans during election season but you ignore them for the other ten months of the year, you are a pretender. And when you tell us you are a champion for our heroes but you remain silent when crazy radicals like Tommy Tuberville disparage our military and play games with the lives of our servicemembers, you are definitely a pretender. You probably remember the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen. Pretenders are the people who tell the king his robes look wonderful, even though in reality he is naked. It takes a child to tell the truth and expose the pretenders as sycophants and liars.

When I was a much younger man, it always seemed like the Republican party was the party of veterans. Was that true for you, as well? Thirty years ago, the prominent veteran voices in government were folks like President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain; to me, they all seemed to be Republicans. But if you look at the most prominent veteran voices in Washington today, you will see a lot of Democrats: Tammy Duckworth and Mark Kelly in the Senate, along with our own Hudson Valley hero Pat Ryan in the House of Representatives. That’s a huge shift. Nowadays it’s Democrats who are trying to increase veterans’ benefits while Republicans are trying to take them away.

We also need to realize our veteran population is rapidly changing, too. When we close our eyes and picture a veteran, we might imagine an older white male with a beard. But in reality, 1 in 8 veterans who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan were women. And 1 in 4 were people of color. We need to ditch the tired stereotypes we still have about veterans. We must realize our younger veterans have much different needs than older veterans. Likewise, women veterans have different needs than male veterans, too, especially when it comes to healthcare.

When it comes to supporting our veterans, we need more public servants who show up to do the work, like Pat Ryan. We need fewer politicians who simply show up to take a photo, and then leave. We have many veterans in crisis here in Dutchess County, but their problems are not going to be helped by photo ops. Their issues will never be remedied by spaghetti dinners right before election time. And yet, every year around this time we suddenly see the same politicians show up at VFWs and American Legions, taking photos, and telling everyone how much they support veterans.

And when the election is over? You already know the story. Those same politicians disappear, of course, leaving many veterans to fend for themselves once again. We have 22 veteran suicides a day in this country. We still have 40,000 homeless veterans every night in America. How is your photo-op helping these veterans in crisis? To me, it’s just disrespect.

I’m calling on my friend and Congressman Marc Molinaro to speak out against Tommy Tuberville’s injustice towards our military men and women. Marc, will you be a defender or a pretender? And I’m also asking my friend Sue Serino, as we both compete for the position of Dutchess County Executive: Will you speak out or stay silent? Are you a defender, or are you a pretender? After all, in a couple of months, one of us will be charged with improving the lives of the 15,000 veterans and their families who currently call Dutchess home. I think they all deserve to know if they are casting their votes for a defender, or a pretender. Don’t you?

We need a true defender as our next Dutchess County Executive. We need someone who has actually worked with veterans and created programs to make their lives better. We don’t need a pretender. We don’t need someone who spends their time doing photo-ops instead of doing the real work. I hope you will support my mission to fight for our veterans here at home who struggle with homelessness, opioid abuse, mental health issues, disability rights, financial matters, transportation issues, and more. Please consider a donation in any amount to my campaign using the secure Act Blue link below. Every little bit helps!

Thank you to Congressman Pat Ryan for doing the work to support our veterans and their families. You truly walk the walk, and you are a true defender!

And thank you, for listening. See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy


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