McCain on Veteran Deaths, Mexicans, and “OTMs”



I was sitting at home on June 4th, 2014, when the telephone rang at my home in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was Senator John McCain, asking me to attend a “Telephone Town Hall.” My first instinct was to hang up. But then I thought, this might be interesting. Do go on.

When McCain started talking, he set out three issues on his mind: The Bergdahl prisoner exchange, the sorry state of the V.A., and the Slide Fire near Sedona, Arizona, where his ranch is located.

McCain kept repeating that the “jihadists” traded for Berdahl were “the worst of the worst,” and that those jihadists “hanged women in soccer stadiums.” There was no opportunity to ask McCain whether these specific “jihadists” were tied to specific atrocities any time in the ten years before they were released. As we were to find out days later, McCain may or may not have known about this exchange because he cuts out on top secret briefings that would keep him in the loop, in order to complain about being outside of the loop.

The first caller, Steve, a disabled Vietnam veteran, stated that the V.A. has been a nightmare for 40 years in a row. And our U.S. Senator for 27 of those years has been . . . John McCain. McCain suggested that each veteran be issued a card and allowed to go to the physician of his choice. Steve countered that we had that system in place until the seventies. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones killed by a previous Republican administration.

Next up was Donna. Donna wants those illegal immigrants out of Arizona yesterday. That’s when McCain told her that there are 80,000,000 illegal immigrants in the United States, and that some of them are “OTMs”: Other Than Mexican. I had never heard this term used before, but apparently it is the reason McCain cannot put them all on a bus to Mexico. Donna persisted until McCain, apparently exasperated, asked Donna where she wanted to dump 80,000,000 people. Being asked to put on her thinking cap caused Donna to hang up.

The term “OTMs” was weirdly off-putting. The first thing you learn to say in Spanish class is, “Como se llama?” What is your name?  OTM is so impersonal. Now, of course, we know that thousands of those “OTMs” are children fleeing the drug wars in Central America and elsewhere. Or, if  you are Arizona Republican congressional candidate Adam Kwasman, YMCA campers. Get ready: Arizona may be sending another genius to Washington, D.C.

McCain apparently has a plan to capture natural gas being wasted during the drilling or fracking process and selling it to the Ukraine. Now that the Ukraine and Russia and/or Russian separatists are at war, that plan seems unlikely to come to fruition.

A brain injured veteran’s father called in. He, too, was worried about access to the V.A. for his son. When McCain mentioned that he would deal with this problem after the July break, this distressed father mentioned that another 40 veterans might be dead by then. McCain, apparently powerless to do anything about anything, inappropriately responded, “You are right, my friend.” As though this father had been talking about the Arizona Diamondback’s standings in the National League West. It was disturbing that McCain conceded that people dying right here in his home state, maybe thirty minutes from his home, were just doomed and that was that.

The final caller asked McCain if his wife was the “richest congressional wife.” No, McCain chuckled, admitting they were quite wealthy. He pinned that honor on Senator John Kerry, who is married to Teresa Heinz. That honor may actually belong to Mike McCaul (R-TX), who is married to the heir to the Clear Channel fortune, Linda McCaul.

So here it is, almost two months later, and the following has happened:

Whistleblowers Pauline DeWenter and Dr. Sam Foote, a scheduling clerk and a doctor respectively at the Phoenix VA, came forward and said that veteran deaths, and a second waiting list to make wait times seem shorter, were kept secret. Senior managers at the Phoenix VA were getting glowing performance reviews and bonus pay while maintaining the secret death and appointment lists. 1400 veterans were on the official waiting list, and another 1700 were on the secret waiting list. 35 veterans are confirmed dead by Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloane Gibson, General Eric Shinseki’s successor.

On July 28, 2014, Senator McCain announced his satisfaction with recent veterans care reform efforts. However, he also said the following on his official web page:

“While allegations that employees at the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS) have been ‘cooking the books’ are relatively new, the challenges that our veterans have been facing in receiving quality and timely care, are not. My office has been, and will continue to be, here to help America’s veterans – throughout the ongoing investigations into PVAHCS and long after the issue is resolved.” 

That is exactly what one of our callers, Steve, said during the telephone town hall. Arizona is America’s fifteenth most populous state, with about 6.5 million people, about the same population as the Houston metroplex. Why doesn’t Senator McCain seem to know what is going on in Arizona? How hard could it be for a reasonably curious person to know what is happening in Phoenix, the state’s capital and population center? Despite McCain’s claim of having “long gone to battle with the bureaucracy at the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce wait times and improve the care provided to our nation’s veterans,” thousands of veterans were placed on a secret waiting list or were otherwise waiting for a very long time for medical attention. Why did General Shinseki have to resign when Senator McCain’s primary residence is in Phoenix, and McCain knew things were really bad at the VA all along? Who should have known more about the Phoenix VA than Phoenician John McCain?

The impression this telephone town hall left me with is that Senator McCain seems to have zero solutions for Arizona’s or America’s problems. His only solution for just about every caller was to call his local office assistant.