Local area veterans of the American Legion Post No. 168 in Hinesville had a pleasant surprise as they gathered for breakfast at their monthly meeting Saturday morning. The former secretary of Veterans Affairs under both Bush administrations, Anthony Principi, and 1st Congressional District candidate Dr. Bob Johnson were on hand to have coffee and doughnuts and speak with the vets.
“We’re at the American Legion post to talk to veterans about Dr. Johnson, his background as a former Army Ranger and medic and now a position in Georgia in this area in Savannah, and to learn the views of the veterans,” Principi said before the meeting.
Principi started his career under President George H.W. Bush as the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 1989 when the VA first became an executive department. Then, he served as the actual secretary under President George W. Bush from 2001-05.
“Clearly, the biggest issue that I faced as secretary was the growing backlog of disability claims, and we put together a special team to work on reducing the backlog so that when veterans file a claim for their disabilities related to their military service, they didn’t have to wait a year or two to get an answer on their claim,” Principi said.
One of the attendees, post Senior Vice President Frank Scozzafava, is a 21-year Army veteran from New York who now lives in Hinesville.
“I joined post No. 168 in 1989. I love it — a lot of these guys here are Vietnam vets just like me,” said Scozzafava, who served as a cook in the Army.
Johnson told the vets that it meant a lot to him to be able to speak to with them. He said that he was a vet, too, as were his two sons, and his father served in World War II.
“Veterans issues are key to my platform,” Johnson said. “We know about the troubles that are going on in the Veterans Administration, and I’m really getting a lot of help from former Secretary Principi, which is really pertinent to our district.”
“It really warms my heart to be here with these guys today,” Johnson said after the meeting. “Most of these guys are Vietnam veterans. They gave up a lot and weren’t treated very well when they came back from the war. We gotta take good care of our veterans. These guys are the kind of people I want to make sure get treated properly.”
The meeting lasted about an hour, as Principi had to catch a flight at 9 a.m. that day out of Savannah, but veterans attending the meeting said it meant a lot to them that Principi and Johnson took time out of their busy schedules to come and speak with them.