TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott kicked off his statewide "Florida Veterans Service Award Tour" in Tampa on Monday, handing out 200 medals to men and woman who have served in the military.
The midday event at an American Legion Post north of downtown came as Scott is emphasizing veterans issues for his re-election campaign.
In June, at Scott's request, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to try to force the federal agency to let state inspectors in veterans hospitals. Earlier this year, as the national scandal surrounding the VA involving veterans who died while awaiting treatment widened, state inspectors tried to enter several VA medical facilities across Florida but were turned away.
"It's disappointing what the VA has done," Scott said Monday after handing out gold-colored medals to veterans. "They don't believe in accountability or transparency."
"Transparency" was a buzzword for Scott, as he also used it several times Monday to continue his criticism of his probable Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, for refusing to release the tax returns of his wife, Carole.
"Charlie Crist doesn't believe in transparency," Scott said when asked about Crist's wife's returns. "I don't know if they're hiding something or what."
Scott plans to give out thousands of "Governor's Veterans Service Awards" medals — which have the state seal on one side and the seals of the five military branches on the other — across the state this week.
After a stop Monday afternoon in Fort Myers, he is scheduled to appear in Hollywood, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Panama City.
Scott has periodically given out the medals since August. He recently decided to devote an entire week to criss-crossing the state and handing them out at events like Monday's at American Legion Post 111, 6918 N Florida Ave., in Tampa.
Any Florida resident who is serving honorably, or has served honorably, in a branch of the military is eligible for the medal. Vets need to fill out a form online at floridavets.org and have proof of their service, such as a VA ID card.
Though some might see the tour as a political attempt to win favor with veterans before an election, Eunice Butts, an Air Force veteran from Tampa, doesn't care.
"This has been a long time coming," said Butts, 69, an inventory manager in the 1960s who specialized in making sure the correct airplane parts got to Vietnam.
"The bottom line is, Florida is honoring its vets," she said. "We can still vote for whoever we want to vote for."
Contact Will Hobson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.