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Veterans hear pitch of new political party

It was nearly two decades of disappointment and broken promises that drew Robert Caylor.

Since retiring from the Navy Seabees in 1985, Caylor said he has seen his benefits whittled away. On Wednesday night, he and his wife, Julita, joined about 100 other Hernando County veterans and their wives to hear from Phillip Meskin, a representative of the new Veterans Party of America.

"A lot of us have hard feelings because we were assured we would be entitled to the same benefits after we retired," said Caylor, who served for 24 years. "Benefits for ourselves and our families were why most of us stayed in after Vietnam."

Based in St. Petersburg, the Veterans Party is registered in nine states, including Florida, and is in the process of forming branches in another 21 states, Meskin told the crowd.

Among its top priorities, the party seeks to provide all earned medical and retirement benefits to all retirees through a program called concurrent receipt. The party rejects a recent deal that moved through Congress as inadequate.

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

These are matters close to Caylor, who, at 62, receives health care services at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, 63 miles from his Weeki Wachee doorstep. In some cases, he must also make the drive to fill prescriptions not available locally.

Caylor said that if anything happens to his eligibility at MacDill, he will be at the mercy of chain pharmacies and the local health clinic.

Ed Noll, commander of VFW Post 10209 in Spring Hill, which sponsored the event, said that in a county where veterans account for nearly one-third of the voters, the party's message resonates loudly.

"This is the best thing I've heard in a long time," said Noll, 78, who served in the Navy from 1943 through 1946. "The veterans have had it. If they get enough people in there, they can shake things up."

Some contend that over the years, benefits and programs for those who have served in the armed forces have been reduced. That, Noll said, is the fault of elected officials.

"In my time, we had people in Congress who protected (veterans') rights," he said. "We don't have that now, and we see those rights diminishing."

Hernando County's representative for the party, Alfred DeVault, said it was resentment over three decades' worth of dwindling retirement benefits that led him to leave the Democratic Party.

"I have yet to meet anyone who is against (the party)," said DeVault, who was a Marine from 1951 to 1958 and then served in the Air Force for 15 years before retiring from active duty. "I got tired of politicians wasting time and playing games."

But the Veterans Party's focus goes beyond veterans' matters, Meskin said, to include a broader range of senior citizen and general social concerns. The platform calls for sweeping tax reforms and for the return of money spent on education overseas to U.S. schools.

Eventually, he said, the Veterans Party of America plans to field candidates for elective offices.

But veterans are tired of waiting, Caylor said.

"He put out some good information like a lot of others," Caylor said after the presentation and a question-and-answer session. "There were a lot of us who were frustrated and wanted something more concrete, but it wasn't there."

Still, Caylor said, he might consider giving up his membership in the Republican Party, if only to have his name counted among those who are worried that benefits for veterans are deteriorating.

"We need to make a showing to both of the major parties that we count," he said. "That's why we went overseas to fight."

For more information on the Veterans Party of America, see www.veteransparty.us.

_ Joy Davis-Platt can be reached at (352) 848-1435. Send e-mail to joysptimes.com. Information in Times files was used in this report.

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