With the Department of Veterans Affairs in a state of turmoil amid the resignation of its former secretary, Arkansas’ two U.S. Senate candidates on Saturday touted their credentials to be advocates for military personnel.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, held a news conference Saturday morning in Little Rock to announce the formation of a statewide coalition of veterans supporting his campaign to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Cotton stood before about two dozen veterans at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the state Capitol to introduce Veterans for Cotton, a coalition of more than 400 Arkansas veterans from across the state representing each branch of military service who have volunteered to help elect Cotton to the Senate, according to a news release from Cotton’s campaign.
Speaking in a phone interview Saturday, Cotton said the coalition likely will serve as a powerful voice in bringing his campaign’s message of conservative change in Washington.
“It’s a great honor. As a veteran myself, and the son and the grandson of a veteran, we’re proud of our family’s history of military service in combat theaters,” he said. “Veterans have a can-do attitude; you give them a mission and they can accomplish it. So we’re grateful to have so many veterans on my campaign.”
Ron Miller, 76, of Jonesboro, who worked to organize the coalition, said the group plans to canvass for Cotton and garner as many votes as possible from the state’s 250,000 veterans, its active military personnel and their families.
“We’ve got a very robust outreach effort going on within the regular county chairs at that level. Most of all those folks are working with the Republican county chairs,” he said. “Now that the primaries are over, we’re all working in harmony with the campaign.”
Pryor, who spoke Saturday during an interview at the Times Record offices, said he will continue to be active in ensuring veterans receive the benefits of which they are entitled.
“As soon as that story broke, I didn’t have a press conference. What I did was I called the Little Rock VA and went over there and met with them, probably that day or the next day, whenever I was home next,” he said. “I couldn’t get to Fayetteville physically, but I called the Fayetteville VA. I was in Little Rock at the John McLellan hospital and probably sat in there for over an hour talking to their leadership team.”
Pryor called out Cotton for seizing an opportunity to push his campaign.
“My opponent was totally the opposite. He sent out press releases — he’s blaming Obama, he’s blaming me; and all that, it just doesn’t solve the problem,” Pryor said. “What you want is someone who recognizes the problem and then goes and tries to solve it.”
Cotton accused Pryor of aligning himself with the Obama agenda, which he said is not good for Arkansas or its veterans.
“It was clear that Barack Obama and Eric Shinseki, his VA secretary, had failed to address the very problems on which they campaigned in 2008,” Cotton said. “Democratic senators across the country — including Al Franken, for goodness sake — were calling for Eric Shinseki’s resignation. Yet Mark Pryor stood with President Obama until the very end.”
Miranda Luke, of Greenwood, who accompanied Pryor at his stop to the Times Record, appears in an ad for Pryor’s campaign that began airing last week.
Luke’s husband, Capt. Samson Luke, was an active-duty officer who deployed for combat twice in Iraq and served with the Arkansas Army National Guard. Luke’s husband died during a drill weekend at Fort Chaffee in 2010. Because he died at home and not on base, the Army told the family they were not eligible for death benefits, according to a news release from Pryor’s campaign.
Pryor helped to insert the Luke Provision into a broad defense bill, preventing similar incidents from happening to future military families, the release states.
“After my husband passed away, the military gave me my benefits and then took them away. I started contacting everyone; I started calling people and trying to go up through the channels, trying to do everything the right way,” Luke said. “I kept assuming they would try to rectify the mistake, and it really was just one small group of money people in the military in D.C. who decided to take away our benefits. I was getting nowhere.”
Luke said Pryor was instrumental in recovering her family’s benefits, and as soon as the case was cleared, she received an outpouring of support from fellow military families.