America owes much to its veterans — not least the chance to fully participate in the democratic society they fought to defend. But that simple principle seems lost on the Bush administration, which is going out of its way to deny veterans the chance to register to vote.
St. Petersburg Times staff writer William R. Levesque reported over the weekend that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs quietly rejected a request last month by the state of California to help register veterans to vote. California asked for assistance under a 1994 executive order by then-President Clinton requiring federal agencies to assist in registering voters, if requested by a state. But the VA blew off the effort. It said veterans didn't need the help and called the directive impractical and an impediment to delivering health care. If that is the case, the VA system is in worse shape than we thought.
The order is neither onerous nor outside the VA's mission of integrating service members back into civilian life. The directive calls for the VA to provide voter registration materials to veterans living at VA facilities, help veterans complete them and return them to the state. This takes a matter of minutes. It's hard to see how filling out another form or two would jeopardize patient care or impede the delivery of services.
That the VA would float this scare tactic shows what a pinched view it takes of its mission to return veterans to American society. The issue seems to be less about staffing and care than controlling what happens on VA property. Last month, the agency banned any group from registering voters in any of its facilities, insisting that only its official volunteers do the work. That is a senseless policy.
There is no justification for the VA's lack of cooperation.