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New party aims for veterans

To Ed Noll's ear, military veterans like himself are getting fed up.

Politicians at the federal, state and local level seem to offer lip service rather than real service to veterans, Noll says. Meanwhile, benefits and programs for those who served in the armed forces grow worse, the commander of one of Florida's largest Veterans of Foreign Wars posts suggested.

"The trouble with veterans is they moan and groan, and when it isn't going right that's all you hear. . . . But they don't stick together," said Noll, 78, who served in the Navy from 1943 through 1946.

If they did, he said, they could be a potent political force. In Hernando County alone, for instance, veterans comprise nearly one-third of the voters.

That's why Noll, of VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill, has invited a representative from the new Veterans Party of America to speak at the hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The party, based in St. Petersburg, is registered in nine states, including Florida, and is in the process of forming in another 21 states, according to its Web site, www.veteransparty.us.

"If he is satisfactory, you'll probably see a lot of guys changing parties real quick," Noll said.

Noll said he has not changed his affiliation yet, but that some heavy hitters, including at least one past district VFW commander, have joined the Veterans Party. He said the appeal comes from the party's platform.

The party's main focus is veterans issues. Among its top priorities, the party seeks to provide all earned medical and retirement benefits to every retiree through the program called concurrent receipt. It rejects a recent deal that moved through Congress, touted by U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, as too little.

The party also aims to have full medical benefits for all retirees and eligible family members, and to make retiree pension benefits tax exempt.

"Their primary purpose is to ensure that veterans get what was promised to them," Noll said.

Its focus goes beyond veterans' matters, though, to include a broader range of senior citizen and general social concerns. For instance, the platform calls for sweeping tax reform and for the return of money spent on education overseas to U.S. schools.

In time, the Veterans Party of America plans to field candidates for elective offices.

Noll figured that the Hernando veterans community could be receptive, and some local contenders could emerge. It's a possibility, he said, because there has been so much general discontent with the current batch of officeholders from Brown-Waite on down.

Griping is increasing over Brown-Waite's performance, he said, as individual veterans say their problems with the Veterans Administration have gone unresolved too long.

The county government gets its share of darts, too.

Several veterans organizations have complained for the past couple of years that the property appraiser has been taxing their halls, despite their not-for-profit status. Last year, VFW 10209 gave $32,000 to the community, including student scholarships, and scraped by to operate its hall, Noll said.

Yet the county tried to tax the post $6,300, an amount the veterans whittled down to $1,400 through negotiations. Thwe group argues the bill should be nothing.

Compounding the frustration, Noll said, was the Value Adjustment Board's denial of the groups' appeals on their assessments. He said the board, which includes three county commissioners and two School Board members, did not let the veterans organizations know when the appeals would be heard, and no members have returned phone calls.

"Some of the guys, they've already switched parties, they're so fed up," Noll said.

He was hopeful that the Veterans Party presentation, followed by a question-and-answer session, would shed light on the viability of joining a new political party.

"Whether they're going to be able to do what they say, or whether it's just more lip service, we'll find out," he said.

VFW Post 10209 is at 15166 Spring Hill Drive. The public is invited to attend the presentation on Wednesday.

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (352) 754-6115 or solocheksptimes.com.

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