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President Bush is in Kansas City today to speak to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention. Four presidential contenders - Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republicans John McCain and Fred Thompson - already have spoken to the group. They outlined their plans to improve veterans health care and their positions on the war in Iraq.
Maria Carter of member station KCUR was there too, finding out what was on the minds of some rank and file veterans.
MARIA CARTER: Some 10,000 VFW members poured through the convention center halls. They're on their way to various meeting rooms to buy pins for their VFW hats, listen to speeches by presidential candidates and other dignitaries, or pick up a needed cup of coffee.
Eric Vaughn(ph) and Shannon Brown(ph) just met. They're both veterans of the Iraq war and they're taking a few minutes off after listening to a speech by Barack Obama before heading to their next event - lunch.
Vaughn and Brown say they're skeptical about what Obama and other candidates are telling the vets.
Mr. ERIC VAUGHN (Iraq War Veteran): It's just strange, because I mean the candidates come here and they speak our language. And I was...
Ms. SHANNON BROWN (Iraq War Veteran): They're telling us what we want to hear.
Mr. VAUGHN: Oh, exactly.
Ms. BROWN: I was like, yes, yes, that's what we want. But...
Mr. VAUGHN: And they all say the same thing, basically. I was hoping to hear some issues, some more issues.
CARTER: One issue the candidates couldn't avoid was the war in Iraq. Brown, who served in Mosul, says she believes the troops need to stay where they are.
Mr. BROWN: When I was there, it was pretty hairy. But I think it's something that we should finish. We should be there because that means all the people who have got hurt there or all the work that we've done was in vain.
CARTER: That's a common sentiment heard here from veterans. Those vets who support the war say the troops are needed in Iraq. But even some who have misgivings, like Lloyd Shoots(ph) from Michigan, say it would be an insult to the soldiers who have already lost their lives or have been injured to come home before the job is finished.
Mr. LLOYD SHOOTS (Iraq War Veteran): They need to stay over there and do the job right and get it done. And the American people just have to wait a little bit longer and be patient and let the military do what it's over they're doing to get the job done.
CARTER: Shoots, who served in the first Gulf War, is a registered Democrat. But he says the debate over whether to pull out troops is enough to change that.
Mr. SHOOTS: If I have to choose right now, for the record I wouldn't vote Democratic.
CARTER: Shoots says he's leaning to Republican John McCain, a sentiment echoed by many VFW members who say the Arizona senator understands what it's like to be in war.
Mr. BOB COX (Vietnam War Veteran): I believe Senator McCain is probably the best one because he tells it from the heart. He believes what he's telling you. He's been there. He's done that.
CARTER: That's Bob Cox from McPherson, Kansas. He says the next commander-in-chief should be someone with combat experience, because no one else could understand what it's like. Cox served in Vietnam and says he supports how President Bush has handled the war in Iraq.
But another Vietnam vet, Alexander Vernon(ph) from Texas, does not.
Mr. ALEXANDER VERNON (Vietnam War Veteran): One man made a choice. He and the people that works for him, they made a choice. And I hate to say this because he's the president, but that was a bad choice.
CARTER: Like everyone else I spoke to, Vernon says he supports the troops, but he feels the administration is sacrificing American lives with no goal in sight.
Mr. VERNON: This is a war. This is not a plaything anymore. And we're losing too many troops to later on leave everything that we built up in that country and we gain nothing. We only have lots of debts and everything.
CARTER: Vernon says he's been studying the candidates and right now plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. But he says he expects little will change after the election, regardless of who the next president is.
For NPR News, I'm Maria Carter in Kansas City.
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