If any apology should result from Rep. Paul Gilbert’s questions about whether Christopher Pierce’s membership in the Maine Army National Guard from 1971 to 1977 qualifies him to fill one of the two positions reserved for veterans on the Finance Authority of Maine board, Gilbert, D-Jay, should make it personally to Pierce.
Gilbert’s comments during a Sept. 4 legislative committee hearing on Pierce’s nomination sparked an uproar, with demands for apologies from Republican legislators and Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster. The controversy even spilled into the U.S. Senate race with Republican candidate Charlie Summers demanding that Democrat Cynthia Dill denounce Gilbert’s statements.
There are many definitions of “veteran.” Federal law spells out a specific definition as it relates to hiring practices. Maine civil service law does, too. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs establishes definitions as they relate to benefits eligibility. Membership organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars adhere to criteria specific to their charters.
State law related to FAME board membership simply defines “v eteran” as “any person who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces and was not dishonorably discharged.” It makes no mention of meeting VA standards, as Gilbert suggests should apply, and does not differentiate between National Guard service versus any other branch of the military.
Pierce wasn’t seeking preferential treatment or attempting to benefit from status as a veteran, and the confirmation hearing was not a proper forum to debate fine points of who can be called a veteran. Using Pierce’s FAME board nomination to quibble over the difference between active duty and reserve service unfairly placed the Cumberland resident in the middle of a conflict that shouldn’t involve him.
Likewise, Republicans trying to gain political points from the brouhaha should cease. Military records don’t list political affiliations, and respect for veterans is not a partisan issue. Trying to make it one — as Summers did with his call for Dill to repudiate Gilbert — seems manipulative.
William “Chick” Ciciotte, a Vietnam-era veteran and American Legion member from Topsham who has organized recognitions for more than 500 Maine veterans, stripped politics from the “who’s a veteran?” question with his simple and direct answer: “ When they put the uniform on, they are subject to call and put their lives on the line.”
Respect for the men and women who served honorably in the U.S. armed forces should be bipartisan and apolitical. Public wrangling over who gets to claim the title “veteran” serves no valid purpose.