In politics, leaders have choices, and I am disappointed in Gov. Paul LePage’s choice to attack Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s record on veterans and his attempt to score political points off the recent scandal in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

LePage and his Republican allies have distorted the facts of the VA scandal in an effort to tarnish Michaud’s service to veterans, and they’ve inaccurately attacked the congressman for his work on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where he serves as the ranking member.

On Aug. 7, President Obama signed into law bipartisan legislation that begins to address the VA’s systemic problems and provide adequate resources to ensure the men and women who have served their country get the health care they deserve.

Working cooperatively with Florida Republican Jeff Miller, chairman of the VA committee, Michaud was able to reach a compromise that brought Republicans and Democrats together, even during a time of persistent gridlock in Congress.

As a former active-duty military officer, I’m keenly aware of the issues soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines face when they return home from deployment. I’ve done it three times.

Having recently left active duty with the Navy, I also know how challenging the transition from military service to civilian life can be. And I am lucky. I do not have combat-related injuries, nor do I suffer from post-traumatic stress. Those who do face even greater obstacles when returning home.

I met Michaud almost a year ago in Washington. Over time, I got to know him and we talked about Maine’s future. It was not long before I realized he was the man to move Maine forward.

I recognized his dedication, resolve and determination for veterans in Washington and followed him to Maine, where I have accepted a volunteer position on his campaign staff.

While trying to make headlines by attacking Michaud, LePage seriously underestimated the stark contrast between his record and Michaud’s.

While serving in Congress, Michaud has sponsored or co-sponsored more than 506 veteran-related bills, affecting areas like timely and accessible care, homelessness and protections for caregivers.

Meanwhile, few veterans-related Governor’s Bills have been signed into law during LePage’s 3½ years in Augusta. And the ones that were are unrelated to any of the major issues affecting Maine’s veterans community, like mental health, suicide or jobs.

Not having a plan to address critical issues within the veterans community is one thing. Taking credit for work other people do is another.

On his website, LePage claims to have amended multiple pieces of legislation. This is only partially true.

For example, when LePage takes credit for “amending the laws about awarding a high school diploma to veterans,” all he did was not veto the bill after it passed through the Legislature. Credit actually goes to state Rep. Ben Chipman, a Portland independent, the bill’s sponsor. During debate, the LePage administration is on record as having no opinion for or against the measure.

In addition, Maine has the second-largest number of veterans per capita in the country, so I recently looked to see how we compare to other states and found the Veterans’ Initiatives in the States Index, a 17-page nonpartisan report published by the National Governors Association. This compilation of proposed and passed veterans-based legislation seeks to highlight state-level programs that are making progress in some of the biggest issue areas. Maine did not receive a single mention.

The Blaine House does deserve credit for genuinely admirable things. Paul LePage has used contingency funds – roughly $10,000 – to build monuments honoring our heroes. And during her time as first lady, Ann LePage has raised awareness across the state by shining the spotlight on veterans charities.

These actions, however, should not be confused with legislating on behalf of veterans. Instead of increasing awareness, the governor should be leading legislative efforts to combat homelessness, eradicate suicides and guarantee access to education and jobs – which is what he was elected to do.

In light of the reforms to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Maine has the potential to be the nation’s leader on veterans issues. After military service, men and women return home with new ideas, skills and talents. The state of Maine wins when these men and woman start new businesses, enter into politics, teach our children and grow our communities.

In order to grow, Maine needs a governor and an administration that do more than score points though headlines. Maine needs someone with a demonstrated record on veterans issues – someone like Mike Michaud, who understands that veterans are one of Maine’s greatest resources.

— Special to the Press Herald