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Columnist John Paradis: Ask candidates about veterans issues

  • The Michael F. Curtin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8006  color guard during the 2016 Veterans Day parade in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nov. 6, 2018, is circled on my calendar. Election Day. Or redemption day as my family calls it. It’s less than four months away now.

But in Northampton, where all politics are local, it’s the state primaries that really capture my interest. And they are less than two months away.

On Tuesday, Sept. 4, voters get to decide key races for state senator and state representative. With the passing of much beloved Peter Kocot and the resignation of the highly revered Stan Rosenberg, the region’s electorate has important choices to make.

Where I sit, there’s much homework to be done because I truly like and admire all the candidates who are running. But just liking someone is easy. Choosing the most qualified candidate is the hard part.

By the looks of the endorsements from area politicians, there are some clear front runners. But I’m not a big fan of endorsements.

Endorsements may show momentum and the image that a candidate is popular, but the people involved take them a lot more seriously than the general public. Examples abound with the best candidate not being supported by the machine. Note Bernie Sanders.

Regardless of who endorses who, a candidate still needs to describe and sell his own mission, and no endorsement can do that.

Let’s take Steve Connor, the director of Central Hampshire Veterans Services, who is running for Rosenberg’s former state Senate seat.

I’ve known Steve for years. He works tirelessly in overseeing the local veteran benefits for 11 cities and towns. He was born and raised in Northampton, served our country in the Navy, and has dedicated nearly his entire adult life to public service, working in social services.

I would argue that he understands state government better than anyone running for office and deserves your vote.

Yet, you haven’t seen any high-profile endorsements for Steve. It’s no matter that he’s worked in city government for more than 14 years and was a past president of the Massachusetts Veterans’ Officer Association. Steve’s not been a party regular so he’s on the outside looking in.

In uber left-leaning, politically astute Northampton where all things related to the military and military service can often be construed or, ahem, misconstrued, as either conservative or militaristic and therefore anti-progressive, I also think veterans get the short shrift.

I can’t recall a time ever when a candidate for an elected state office in my voting district came to a local veterans group or meeting and asked us what we needed help with or what was important. To my knowledge, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a question pertaining to veteran issues in a debate or at a candidates night or forum.

That frustrates the heck out of me. It is striking to me how little those who never served in the military know about it or about the veteran community, yet elected leaders make important decisions involving veterans every day.

So with Steve Connor the only veteran in the several state races in our region, here is what I would like to ask the other candidates.

What do you, in fact, know about veterans? What do you know about military culture? How many veterans are in the district you would represent?

What do you know about the Massachusetts laws that govern veterans’ rights? Do you know what the state Department of Veterans’ Services is responsible for and how well do you understand the responsibilities of the state laws pertaining to municipal veterans’ services?

What will you do to ensure the two state veteran homes in Massachusetts, one in Chelsea and one in Holyoke, get equal support and attention? The Baker administration plans to construct a new long-term care facility at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home. Veterans in western Massachusetts need a modern facility in Holyoke with expanded services, too.

What will you do when the federal government continues to privatize health care for veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration? Have you ever visited a VA medical facility? There are four in western Massachusetts, including the regional hub in Leeds. Many veterans are and will be required, in increasing numbers, to use providers in the community. Is the state prepared for this?

About 20 veterans a day tragically take their own lives — a statistic that every candidate should know and talk about when they are on the stump. Why does the state only have a handful of trained veteran peer specialists — members of a “SAVE” team — to help veterans in crisis?

Veterans rely heavily on public transportation to get to work and to medical appointments. Yet, bus routes continue to be cut, and in 2018 we still don’t have a west-to-east rail line to Boston. We all know that the state is fixated on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and anything related to greater Boston traffic. What are you going to do to ensure the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and other western Massachusetts transit authorities get the funding we deserve?

These are just some of the issues important to me and the ones veterans talk about. And, by the way, we vote.

Over the course of the summer, I plan to ask candidates these questions. I encourage you to ask your own questions about what’s important to you.

On Memorial Day and on Veterans Day, it’s convenient for elected officials to shake the hands of veterans and to say “thank you for your service.” It’s a whole ‘nother ball game to walk the talk and work the issues on our behalf in Boston.

Ignore the voices out there that tell you who to vote for or presume to know what’s best for you in who is most qualified.

Don’t roll with the tide — do your own homework. You’ve got less than two months.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a column published the second Friday of the month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.