IAVA Grades Congress on Supporting Our Troops (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the first and largest group of its kind, has given letter grades to every Representative and Senator based on their voting history on issues that affect soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, war veterans, and military families. The methodolgy used by the non-profit and non-partisan group was straightforward:

To calculate the Ratings, IAVA reviewed all legislation voted on in the Congress since September 11, 2001. For each piece of legislation that affected troops, veterans or military families, IAVA took a position either in support of, or in opposition to its passage. The letter grades were derived from the percentage of times that each legislator’s vote matched the official IAVA stance.

The results in the Senate are surprising, but certainly not shocking: the worst grade received by a Democratic senator was higher than the best grade received by a Republican senator. Here’s the full list:


Actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Hat-Tip: Bob Geiger.

UPDATE: I should have made clear that the table of grades was compiled by Bob Geiger, not by the IAVA itself. Reflecting its non-partisan nature, the IAVA reports its grades by state, not by party affiliation. Indeed, the IAVA does not even identify party affiliation on its list; you have to search for an individual member of Congress to learn his or her affiliation.

UPDATE 2: One commenter implies that the Republicans might have received lower grades because they voted against trimming “budgetary fat.” Here is a list of some of the measures Lincoln Chafee — the Republican with the best grade, a “C” — voted against; I leave it to the reader to decide whether the proposed expenditures were “budgetary fat” or necessary to ensure the well-being of those who risked their lives for their country:

  1. Voted against allocating $2,000,000 for research into the treatment of brain injuries, a very common injury among Iraq veterans.
  2. Voted against providing eligibility for retired pay for non-regular military service.
  3. Voted against providing $1,975,183,000 for medical care for Iraq veterans.
  4. Voted against protecting servicemembers and veterans from means testing in bankruptcy.
  5. Voted against assuring that funding is provided for veterans health care each fiscal year to cover increases in population and inflation.
  6. Voted against reducing the age for receipt of military retired pay for nonregular service from 60 to 55.
  7. Voted against prohibiting profiteering and fraud relating to military action, relief, and reconstruction efforts.
  8. Voted against expressing the sense of Congress that the removal of Saddam Hussein enhanced the security of Israel and other United States allies.
  9. Voted against providing pay protection for members of the Reserve and the National Guard.
http://opiniojuris.org/2006/10/25/iava-grades-congress-on-supporting-our-troops-updated/

12 Responses

  1. Come down out of your ivory tree house Kev. The IAVA are “non-partisan” all right. It says it right there on the front page! That’s not to say their even wrong, but your “what a good boy am I” tone is really beneath an intellectual. How about some actual analysis of the issues involved? If I were to make the same type of arguments on one of your exams that you make here — at least in political matters — I would rightly make a D at most. Put aside your snarkiness and give us some analysis. Use your brain here professor. I can go to Kos for kool-aid drinking. I expect to learn something here. I don’t give a rat’s ass about your personal views on other matters. If I misunderstand the mission of the blog, then I can go elsewhere, but that would be too bad as I’m sure there’s much to learn about the various areas of international law here. It’s the academic version of “Shut up and sing!”

  2. It’s worth noting that the voting grade appears to be based off support for a series of measures funding veteran programs. As such, any Republican effort to trim budgetary fat,and given how VA hospitals tend to be in the same category as military bases, no one wants one closed in their district, would result in a low grade.

    As for Troy’s remarks, yes, various authors on this blog do occasionally decide to post political rants of the type more commonly seen on MySpace. I generally just browse past them, so long as they pay for the web hosting, it’s their right to post them… I just don’t express much interest in reading them.

  3. Kevin,

    Do you know the background of this group? They scored legislators based on their position on various pieces of legislation that they as a group favor or disfavor. But I don’t exactly understand why they support or don’t support this or that legislation. For example, in their scorecard (available here) the IAVA does not support the Military Commission Act and they give a negative score to any legislator who voted for that legislation. But why do they not support the MCA? It is not at all obvious to me that voting for the MCA is a vote against our troops. They don’t say why they oppose or support any legislation.

    Roger Alford

  4. I know it’s his space and he can say what he wants — that’s hsi right here and even in NZ and especially on the ‘net. Since he’s paying the bills he can delete the comment above as well. It at least if it were on Kevein Heller.blogspot.com I could more easily look for the info I need and avoid wasting precious scroll time with hysterical jeremiads. Cry me a river I guess….

  5. Roger: I don’t know precisely why the IAVA opposes the MCA, but I imagine it’s because of its controversial provisions about torture and the Geneva Conventions. The military as a whole has been consistently opposed to provisions that weaken prohibitions on torture and reduce the protections of the Geneva Conventions — for the simple reason that they, not Bush, will be the ones who suffer when our enemies follow suit.

    And by the way, if Troy thinks this post is a “hysterical jeremiad,” I worry for his blood pressure! I guess it just makes Stephen Colbert’s point that reality has a well-known liberal bias. Not surprisingly, Troy doesn’t bother to explain why reporting the results of an empirical study by the largest Iraq/Afghanistan veterans group is “hysterical” But I guess it’s self-evident — after all, everyone knows how left-wing soldiers tend to be. I guess it would be a commie conspiracy, like fluoridization, to point out that there isn’t a single Iraq veteran running for national office who is running as a Republican…

  6. By the way, Troy, I would never delete your comments. Just as it is my right to editorialize when I want — which is not all that often, at least in an openly political sense — it is our readers’ right to criticize my editorializing and my obligation to read those criticisms.

  7. Kevin,

    I have to question how the IAVA could come up with a scorecard which breaks so heavily along party lines. (I’d question it if it went the other way too). IAVA’s Executive Director, Paul Reickoff (a former Democrat) gave the Democratic Response to the President in 2004, which also colors my judgment on the non-partisan nature of the group’s scorecard.

    I’m certain the group does good work, but I don’t know that the scorecard was the best example of that. I really think Roger hit the nail on the head with questioning why certain pieces of legislation made it onto the scorecard (full list here ). I think they would have done better to narrow their scorecard to the key issues they do a good job advocating for such as benefits and PTSD type isues. That or weigh things differently. For example, should a thank you vote to the U.K. really hold as much weight as a vote on protecting service members from predatory lending, insurance sales, etc.? Maybe the thank you vote is important for Vets, but it is not as important as those issues which directly impact them and I think the weight should be different for the scorecard to have more validity.

    Most importantly though, the scorecard is at odds with the assesment of the VFW, who has a long history of advocacy for the troops. For example, Ted Stevens got a D on the IAVA scorecard, Mike Bilirakis got a C+, and Bill Young got a C+, however all of these men received the VFW’s Congressional Award for outstanding service to veterans and their families. (see Stevens, Bilirakis, Young stories).

    Regarding Iraq veterans running as Republicans, there are three, NJ, TX, HI: (See story here)

    Greg McNeal

  8. Greg,

    Thanks for the correction about the vets running as Republicans — and for attempting to engage with the substance of the IAVA study, as opposed to complaining that it must be biased because it contradicts the Republican party line that only Republicans support the troops.

    Regarding the equal weighting, you may have a point. I imagine IAVA simply went vote by vote to avoid the opposite charge, that they were weighting votes differently to advance a partisan agenda. Also, regarding the UK vote, I don’t see how weighting that vote equally slants the grades toward Democrats — it seems to me that the vote is either non-partisan or slanted against Democrats, who obviously have been far more critical than Republicans of the War on Terror and Tony Blair’s support for Bush. So perhaps Roger’s example is a better one — although, again, the military has consistently opposed the Bush administration’s attempts to gut the Geneva Conventions.

    Kevin

  9. Kevin,

    Good point, perhaps that’s my problem with the Report Card. By weighing everything equally, the only factor of differentiation is the individual questions chosen by the IAVA, by choosing what to measure the outcome can be pre-ordained.

    Certainly some votes mattered more to the troops –as in they had a greater impact– than others. My examples were probably bad ones: the U.K. question was a no brainer with overwhelming support as there’s really no downside to saying thanks, and no cost associated with it. The same is true for the predatory lending protections, and both questions were passed with overwhelming support. (which is not to say one question should not weigh more than the other, I still think they should weigh differently)

    With that said, somehow through the rest of the questions on the Report Card, the outcomes broke entirely along party lines. There must be some core set of questions which caused the results to turn this way. All of this leads me to believe that the individual questions chosen were intended to favor one party (and based on the Report Card it’s safe to say it benefited Democrats).

    It is possible that Democrats are more supportive of the troops. But no overlap at all? That seems odd. Even the breaking line between the two was huge. There was only one Democrat with less than a B, Nelson with a B-, which means he voted 80-82% of the time with the IAVA. The best Republican (a three way tie) earned C’s which means they voted 73-76% of the time with the IAVA. That’s a 4-9% gap between what we can term the outliers. If you throw them out the gap is between the C-’s, 70-72% on the Republican side and the B’s, 82-85% on the Democrat side, a 10-15% spread in a game where the passing score is 50%.

    Perhaps I’m being a bit altruistic here thinking that individual Senators vote along non-party lines when it comes to veterans issues– but I just find it hard to believe Dennis Kucinich (C-) sides with the troops more than John McCain (D). I’m just shocked that there’s not more differentiation in the results, and the lack of differentiation is what makes me skeptical.

    Thanks for listening.

    Best,

    Greg McNeal

  10. Ignore the 11:13pm posting, it’s pretty much the same but with some typos. Admins feel free to delete it with my permission.

  11. “The military as a whole has been consistently opposed to provisions that weaken prohibitions on torture and reduce the protections of the Geneva Conventions — for the simple reason that they, not Bush, will be the ones who suffer when our enemies follow suit.”

    Kevin, is this an accurate description of the motivation for the military opposition to the MCA? It seems to me that in saying “when our enemies follow suit,” there are two possible types of enemies that we are speaking of. First, there are nation-state adversaries, for example, Iran, if we were to end up in a traditional armed conflict against that country. The MCA would not apply to captured Iranian soldiers, for they would (presumably) be POWs entitled to Geneva protections, including UCMJ procedures for war crimes trials. Second, there are non-state adversaries, such as Al Qaeda. I don’t imagine you really mean that because of our decision to implement the MCA that our soldiers will be treated in kind by Al Qaeda if captured. In short, as long as our soldiers are fighting as soldiers, the reciprocity that they should be entitled to isn’t affected by the MCA, is it?

    That’s not to say that the military (I’ll go with this description, though I would guess that there’s significant variation in the individual assessments of the MCA) wouldn’t have other legitimate reasons to oppose the MCA. I just don’t see them as being based on a belief in reciprocal treatment by the enemy.

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