VFW Endorses Non-Vet Over Allen West, Retired LTC

The Veterans of Foreign Wars has endorsed Ron Klein, who never served a day in uniform, over retired LTC Allen West, a decorated veteran of several foreign wars. Is this an outrage?

Blackfive‘s Mr. Wolf has a rant emploring readers to “BURN YOUR VFW CARDS.”

What was so disturbing was the email listed someone we all know- LTC(r) Allen West, and how the VFW, of all people, THE VEE-EFF-FRICKING-W, was ENDORSING HIS OPPONENT.

You read that right.

His opponent?  Democrat Ron Klein.  WHO HAS NEVER SERVED IN UNIFORM.

You read THAT right, too.

People, I’ve been pissed before.  Mad, even.  Upset.  But this?  THIS is treasonous to me.  For a ‘so called’ veterans organization to pick a NON-SERVING, NON-VETERAN over one of the MOST PROMISING veterans running in politics is heinous.  Disturbing.  And shows just how far off-track the VFW has become.

While I’m a veteran of a foreign war, I’m not a member of VFW.  Regardless, I’d stop short of describing endorsement of a sitting United States Congressman who never wore a uniform over a retired lieutenant colonel treasonous.   Or even heinous.  Or disturbing.  It is, however, a mite curious.

What does the VFW PAC have to say for itself?

“This endorsement is based on your strong support for veterans, national security & defense, and military personnel issues,” says a letter to Klein from Veterans of Foreign Wars PAC Director Salvatore Capirchio.

Given VFW’s mission, that doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable.  B-b-b-b-ut Klein never served!  What could Klein have possibly done for veterans?

One of Ron’s top priorities is to keep America’s promise to our veterans, and improve their quality of life after service. To continue his fight for those who have fought for our country, Ron introduced the Wounded Warrior K-9 Corps Act (H.R. 3266), new, bipartisan legislation to help train guide dogs and other service animals for wounded veterans. Ron co-sponsored the GI Bill for the 21st Century, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The legislation makes America’s veterans part of our economic recovery by restoring the promise of a full, four year-college education for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, which can be transferred to their spouse or children. Ron formed and meets regularly with Veterans Advisory Groups in Broward and Palm Beach counties. He also has dedicated specific staff to work with veterans who have served our country and to their families, when their loved ones are overseas and return home.


It also doesn’t hurt that he’s currently got a 5 point lead over West in the only available poll.

So, to reiterate:  The VFW’s PAC has endorsed a sitting U.S. Representative who has done an enormous amount of heavy lifting for veterans in his short tenure in Congress who’s favored to be re-elected, anyway.   His opponent had a fine career in the United States Army and moved to the district for the first time six years ago.   This isn’t a crime against veterans.

Now, from what little I’ve seen of West over the past few months, I’d like to see him win.*  He’d be a rising star in the Republican Party.  But simply serving in the military doesn’t  mean you’d be a good Congressman and automatically deserve the support of veterans, even if your opponent never wore a uniform.   If the VFW supported Charlie Rangel’s opponent, for example, I’d be thrilled.  And Rangel is a bonafide hero of the Korean War.

*UPDATE:    Readers have reminded me of the controversial end of Allen’s Army career. Here’s the Wikipedia summary:

While serving in Taji, Iraq, on August 20, 2003, as commander of the 2d Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel West was in charge of an interrogation of a civilian Iraqi police officer who was suspected of having pertinent information regarding attacks on American soldiers in the area. Interrogators had learned that the detainee had information about a planned ambush. When the interrogators were unable to extract the needed important information for some time, LTC West was asked to come try to obtain the important information. As the detainee continued to hold back the information, LTC West fired his pistol past the detainee’s head into a clearing barrel, frightening (but not physically harming) the detainee and getting him to finally give the information. According to Lt. Col. West’s sworn statement, the detainee informed West that:

” [The attack] was to occur Friday morning in Saba al Boor vicinity of the police station by positioned snipers supposedly being brought in from Fallujah. [The detainee] was to ID my vehicle and myself for these rooftop firers. We took this information and the following day established flask CPs and used AH-64s overhead. There was no attack and no further attacks have emanated from the town since the apprehension of [the detainee] and his named associates. “

At least one man was apprehended as a result of the information obtained through the detainee’s interrogation. His home was searched, but no plans for attacks on Americans or weapons were found. Colonel West testified that he did not know whether “any corroboration” of a plot was ever found, adding: “At the time I had to base my decision on the intelligence I received. It’s possible that I was wrong about [the detainee,] Mr. Hamoodi.”

LTC West, who at the time was just short of having 20 years of service, was charged with violating articles 128 (assault) and 134 (general article) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. West was processed through an Article 32 hearing in November 2003, where he admitted wrongdoing, was fined $5,000 over two months for misconduct and assault. He then submitted his resignation, and was allowed to retire with full benefits in the summer of 2004.

At a hearing, West was asked by his defense attorney if he would do it again. “If it’s about the lives of my men and their safety, I’d go through hell with a gasoline can,” he said. Apparently not knowing West’s gun was aimed into a barrel, “Hamoodi cracked and gave information about the planned ambush on West’s convoy, thwarting the attack.” West said there were no further ambushes on U.S. forces in Taji until he was relieved of his leadership post on October 4.”  “After West’s resignation was brought to public attention the next fall, he received over two thousand letters and e-mails from the American public offering him moral support. In addition, a letter was drafted to the Secretary of the Army, its signatories being ninety-five members of Congress in West’s support.

West spoke in Sept. 2010 in defense of a group of US military personnel convicted of war crimes known as the “Leavenworth 10.”

This significantly clouds the issue and removes the presumption of support I’d have for a charismatic, black Republican who’s a decorated veteran.     Were I in West’s district, I’d research the incident much further.  But it’s highly troubling.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    You make a good argument, especially with the last comment about Charlie Rangel. Still, it’s a strange election year. The VFW is supporting non-veterans and the NRA is supporting Democrats over equally or better qualified (from the NRA’s perspective) Republicans.

    It seems odd to me that these organizations would support these candidates.


  2. There’s a name for governments where only members of the military are allowed to be in the government. If Mr. Wolf is so gung ho about living in one, I suggest he move, as he has plenty of choices: Burma, Libya, Cuba, etc. I hear North Korea’s next leader is going to be a four star general.

    Those of us not interested in living in a military dictatorship, on the other hand, would kindly ask that he stopped undermining civilian control of the military purely in the name of partisan hackery.


  3. I’d note that in my district, the VFW-PAC endorsed non-vet Jim Gerlach over Iraq war vet Manan Trivedi, yet this some how failed to make Mr. Wolf’s rant list.

    Oh that’s right, Jim Gerlach’s a Republican, and endorsing a non-vet is only “treasonous” when they’re a Democrat non-vet.


  4. Jay Dubbs says:

    It is also probably worth noting that West’s discharge from the army was done in less than optimal circumstances, as he resigned before facing charges.


  5. Tano says:

    Actually, he admitted to assault and misconduct and was fined $5000 and “allowed to retire”. The incident essentially was carrying out a mock-execution of a prisoner (firing a weapon past his head) as a means of extracting information (the prisoner turned out not to have any intel).

    More to the point though, I am surprised at the reaction to this. Well, actually, from some of the extreme rightwingers I am not surprised at an emotional meltdown over any issue…. But seriously, why would anyone think that the VFW would necessarily endorse a veteran? I can see it as a tiebreaker, if all else is equal, but otherwise they are obviously going to go with the candidate that either has a better record, or is a more promising advocate for the interests that they hold dear. Which seem to be more a question of how well the government treats veterans rather than taking pro-militaristic stands on issues (as people like “Blackfive” may crave).

    Does the AARP necessarily endorse the older candidate in any race? Would feminist groups endorse a Christine O’Donnell type over a pro-choice male?

    There should be no expectation amongst anyone who knows anything about American politics, that a Republican would be better on veterans issues than a Democrat. Rather the contrary – given that many veterans issues come down to the government spending money, Republicans tend to be worse on these matters.


  6. mike says:

    I am confused – you can’t get a fine at an Art 32 – it is like an indictment hearing – investigatory only – I assume he plead guilty at an Art 15 and was fined. Did he retire or did he resign after that?


  7. mike says:

    Oh yeah, I would also do a bit more research if he were a candidate on my ballot – violating the law of war and rules of engagement are pretty serious – as a LTC he clearly knew what he was doing was wrong.


  8. steve says:

    West, if the allegations are true, did not behave properly. Like most torture and tough guy interrogation techniques, it appears to have failed to provide any real intel, which is consistent with the studies done by the Army. I wouldnt vote for him based upon this info.



  9. Dave says:

    I am also a vet as well as a life member of the VFW. Sometimes in veterans organization, as with many other organizations, you take the bad with the good. For example, I feel as though the AARP has for years supported their membership demographic to the detriment of the nation. This has nothing to do with the politics of the organization, merely that with AARP on the job, it will be difficult if not impossible to address meaningful reform of social security or medicare because it may negatively affect their membership. How does this relate to veterans? Well, the VFW is concerned about their primary demographic: the veteran. Therefore veterans benefits are foremost in their scope. Those politicians supporting veterans benefits even while supporting policies that might endanger current troops may very well get the support of veterans organization (not saying this is the case here, merely a worst case example). If nothing else it can increase their “military” credentials to better justify other more negative veteran/military decisions elsewhere. This is a very slippery path. For example, how much support does a corrupt political boss get/deserve for putting a chicken in every pot if at the same time he takes out every independent working person striving to put a little more chicken in their pot if they haven’t paid protection money. After all, the boss is making sure everyone gets enough to live on.
    As for LCL West, there are times in life you do what you believe is right even if it is wrong. Based on what I heard, he did what he believed had to do, and the Army, in spite of many protests, did what they had to do. I seem remember this incident a few days after it happened, well before the trial and while the military push continued. I knew his career was over if not jail time. I don’t see why this appears to some to be so complex. If you break law no matter how justified, you face potential consequences and it needs to stay that way. This helps ensure the next person considers their actions carefully before attempting the same thing. If it is an unjust law (unlike in LTC West’s case), perhaps the trial will allow/encourage a reevaluation and change in the law.


  10. IanY77 says:

    It’s happened before. In 2006, the VFW endorsed the opponent of Iraq War vet Tammy Duckworth.


    On November 3, 2006, according to the Washington Post, the Veterans of Foreign Wars angered some Illinois veterans by endorsing Roskam over Duckworth. Democratic Senator and Vietnam veteran Bob Kerrey said, “They should be ashamed of themselves.”[61] Duckworth held a press conference and said that the VFW had not contacted her or asked her to fill out any forms regarding her positions, as would be typical for a group deciding which candidate to endorse. A spokesperson for the VFW’s said it had changed its endorsement process and required candidates to request a questionnaire. The same spokesman said that Roskam got the 11th-hour endorsement after a recommendation from the state VFW chapter.[62] Duckworth is an active member of the VFW.[63]

    I checked Blackfive, and there was (as far as I could tell) no mention of that incident, much less the hysterics of the Blackfive post quoted above above. I can’t help but think that if Duckworth had an “R” next to her name, the reaction would have been a tad different. Of course, if she had an R next to her name, the VFW would have endorsed her. No, I don’t think the VFW is reflexively Republican, but they were very clearly intent on pushing one in that particular race.


  11. rose says:

    I would vote for West time and time again. I believe he did what he thought he had to to save lives. No one got killed through his actions. So what if he scared the heebee jeebies out of a prisoner. If it gets results. He didn’t beat to an inch of his life, just shot a gun past his ear. Thankfully he was allowed to retire with full benefits after his service to his country.

    We live in a mamby pamby world now which just totally sucks. We need more men like Allen West out there to mold this great country into what it was before. The way I see it we are a joke to the rest of the world thanks to our illustrious leaders we have now.
    If West were to run for president in 2012 you can be dam sure that I would vote for him in a heartbeat.


  12. RTO Trainer says:

    Comes to a choice between following a rule and bringing my people home, the rule can go hang and I’ll take the consequences. Nothing troubling about it.

    A quick review of the VFW PAC endorsement criteria seems to indicate that only an incumbent can get an endorsement, that an endorsement requires that the member of Congress have voted in concert with VFW PACs positions on selected bills in the previous session. A member of the House has to have voted with the VFW on 10 of these 13 bills: http://www.vfwpac.org/House%20Bill%20Summary.pdf Being unable to cast a vote for or against, if not a member of Congress ensures that there will be no endorsements of challengers.