Congressman Ron Barber's reelection team last week unveiled a group of veterans who are endorsing the Democratic incumbent as he seeks a second full term this year.
Flanked by about 10 veterans at downtown's El Presidio Park, Barber said that too many veterans were not finding the help they needed when they came home from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, often with missing limbs, traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress syndrome.
"When they put on the uniform and went into service overseas, we made a commitment to them that we would take care of their needs and support them and their families," Barber said. "It's a national disgrace that any organization, such as the VA, that should be fighting for our veterans, would have secret waiting lists—waiting lists that would show the administrators are on top of things when they are not, and allows them to get bonuses that they do not deserve."
Among the veterans on Team Barber: retired general John Wickham, who served as Army Chief of Staff in the Reagan administration; David Rataczak, a retired Air Force major general and former adjutant general of Arizona; and longtime local developer Stan Abrams.
Abrams, who served as a captain in the Air Force, said that he believes Barber "has done the best job in dealing with veterans issues of any person who is in Congress right now and in addition to that, he has taken a role in the community here in support of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, which is crucial to the future of our community."
Veterans are a key constituency in the highly competitive Congressional District 2. Team Barber estimates that more than 85,000 veterans live in CD2 and Barber frequently mentions them while on the stump.
And his likely opponent this year is Republican Martha McSally, a veteran herself who served 26 years in the Air Force and was the first female commander of an A-10 squadron. McSally narrowly lost to Barber in 2012 and is seeking a rematch, although she has two challengers in the Aug. 26 primary.
Team McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak questioned Barber's commitment to veterans, pointing to a budget deal that Barber supported in December 2013 that cut future benefits for veterans.
"Barber will do anything to cover up his record of voting to slash veterans' retirement benefits, which was a violation of the pledge we make with those who serve our country and shows he can't be trusted to stand up for Southern Arizona veterans when it matters," Ptak said via email.
Barber denounced those budget cuts at the time but felt obligated to vote for the budget "to end gridlock in Washington and create certainty for the nation's economy," according to a December press release from his office. A week after he voted for the budget, he was among a group of lawmakers who introduced legislation to reverse the cuts.
Team Barber spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn pointed out that the bill restoring the veterans' benefits passed Congress in February.
"Earlier this year, Ron voted to protect veterans' pension benefits that had been cut in a bipartisan budget deal brokered by Senator Patty Murray and Martha McSally's Tea Party buddy Congressman Paul Ryan," Nash-Hahn said via email.
Elsewhere in the CD2 race: Barber was among those condemning the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision last week.
In a 5-4 split, the justices ruled that the Obama administration could not force closely held private companies to offer health-insurance benefits that violate the religious conscience of the business owners. Hobby Lobby had sued because its Christian owners were upset by a requirement that they offer birth-control coverage as part of their health-insurance coverage for employees.
Barber said the decision "allows the beliefs of corporations to trample the rights of employees, especially the rights of women. All employees—men and women—must be free to make their own health care choices with their doctors and without interference from their employer. I will continue fighting to protect the right of all women to make their own health care decisions."
McSally supported the majority's decision, saying the issue "is not whether women should have access to contraception without cost, but whether the Obamacare mandates and substantial penalties are the legal way to provide that access."
McSally added that the ruling highlights a central flaw in the Affordable Care Act because the law "tries to force individuals and business owners into compliance through mandates and penalties, and, as we've seen, has actually hurt women's access to health care through cancelled policies and reduced choice."
McSally said she supports "patient-centered reform that ensures all women have access to affordable health care."
One of McSally's Republican primary opponents, Shelley Kais, said the ruling "protects the religious freedom that is the right of all Americans, including employers and employees. No woman/employee has had her right to make decisions about her personal health care taken away as a result of the Supreme Court ruling. Instead, she now has the knowledge to work with employers who share her views and provide her with the benefits she wants. The ruling also restores the rights of employers in closely held corporations to decide what benefits they will provide their employees. This is a great victory for business and women alike."
A representative from the other Republican in the race, Chuck Wooten, did not respond to a request for comment before press time.