By  David J. Cote

ARLINGTON, Va. — I am a proud Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran from Maine and public servant. Born in Waterville, I joined the service right after graduating from Bangor High School in 1997. I earned a math degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2001, and I remain on active duty as a Marine Corps officer. I care deeply about veterans and the future of Maine.

As we choose our state’s future leaders, I encourage the citizens of Maine to be fair in evaluating our candidates and I expect those candidates to be fair in portraying their opponents.

Among many life lessons from a Marine Corps career, two fundamental axioms have provided a decision support construct that works for me:

First, because resources are scarce, good organization must allocate them in a responsible way.

Second, it is up to the strong to protect the weak, the vulnerable and the forgotten.

Unfortunately, both axioms are violated with the Veterans Affairs crisis. Everyone agrees the situation today is a disgrace and completely unacceptable. But what is also disgraceful to me is the attempt to politicize the plight of veterans.

I am very disappointed to see some politicians seeking a political advantage from the misfortune of our nation’s heroes.

There is enough blame to go around. It happened on everyone’s watch, and it is inappropriate to associate the unfortunate outcome with any one individual. Already, some candidates in the Maine gubernatorial race are crossing that line, and I find it disgusting.

Such political handwringing does nothing to help address the systemic challenges within the VA system, which are poised to worsen as more veterans return home from war and transition out of active-duty service and back into our communities.

Reducing the crisis to political talking points undermines the work of the countless doctors, administrators and legislators working to get answers to the tough questions about how such abuses occurred and, more importantly, improve the delivery of health care to those in need.

Exploiting veterans for political gain is wrong. Finger-pointing does not help Maine veterans get the care they deserve. It will take bipartisan solutions and a call for deeper collaboration from administrators at the VA, elected officials and leaders within the veterans’ community.

I agree with my commander in chief’s statement, “It is important that our veterans don’t become another political football . . . This is an area where Democrats and Republicans should always be working together.”

There’s already enough negativity in political campaigns. Trying to score points from the systemic failures of a complex health care delivery process is not only inappropriate, it is unfair and disingenuous.

Let’s focus on the positive ways we can honor the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces, particularly those veterans from Maine. We have more veterans per capita than most states, and our duty is to honor their service, sustain their legacy and carry on the unfinished work of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice while in the service to our country. We must ensure that those veterans will never be forgotten.

There are many ways to bring honor to our state’s proud veterans’ legacy, but dragging them into a political fight is not one of them.

Veterans deserve more. Mainers deserve more. The people of Maine are our most precious asset. I am proud that we comprise a family of smart, resourceful, independent-minded and hardworking individuals who can come together to solve problems and take care of our obligations, particularly to our men and women in uniform.

I’m proud that Maine’s Togus VA hospital has an excellent reputation and is not involved in the current scandal. Like all hospitals, there is always room for improvement, but the accomplishments at Togus, where relatives of mine continue to receive excellent care, didn’t happen overnight. They are successful because of the hard work and commitment of a team of elected officials, doctors, nurses and VA administrators working together.

In solving the VA crisis, I encourage our current and future leaders to apply the two axioms. Carefully consider the allocation of resources to this problem, and remain laser-focused on protecting and serving those most in need, particularly our nation’s ill and injured veterans.

In choosing those future leaders, I ask Mainers to dismiss the partisan attacks and rather take the time to wisely and independently evaluate our candidates by comparing their actual record on veterans’ issues.

— Special to the Telegram