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  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
    Anthony Principi, former Veterans Affairs secretary, left, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Young and former Indiana congressman Steve Buyer answer questions from veterans about their health care Wednesday at Allen County Republican Party Headquarters.
October 19, 2016 3:05 PM

Former VA secretary campaigns for Young

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

A former secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs campaigned in Fort Wayne on Wednesday for Republican Senate candidate Todd Young.

Anthony Principi said Young is "a very clear choice" because Young, as a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, has "dedication to principle, leadership, caring for your team, your people."

Principi, who headed VA from 2001 until early 2005 under President George W. Bush, said Young "can make a difference restructuring the VA. ... It needs certain reforms to take place."

Principi, Young and former Indiana congressman Steve Buyer met for a veterans "roundtable meeting" at Allen County Republican Party Headquarters in downtown Fort Wayne. Four military veterans participated, including Wells County GOP Chairman Ralph Garcia.

Young, who represents south-central Indiana in the U.S. House, is opposed in the Nov. 8 election by Democrat Evan Bayh and Libertarian Lucy Brenton. They seek to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.

During the Senate candidates debate Tuesday night, Bayh accused Young of voting to cut funding for veterans health care, specifically for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention.

"I support robust funding for veterans health care," Young told The Journal Gazette on Wednesday. "I don't know what Sen. Bayh or lobbyist Bayh or whatever was referring to. I know he made several false claims last night so this may be among them."

Young's campaign regularly calls Bayh a lobbyist. The former senator and governor is a partner at a Washington law firm that does lobbying work but Bayh has denied claims that he is a lobbyist.

Asked when Young had voted to cut spending for PTSD treatment and suicide prevention, the Bayh campaign referred The Journal Gazette to two votes – in 2011 and 2014 – in which the Republican-controlled House rejected attempts by Democratic legislators to amend appropriations bills.

The 2011 amendment would have added $20 million in PTSD and suicide prevention funding, and the 2014 amendment would have increased funding for PTSD treatment by $5 million.

Principi – who is chairman of The Spectrum Group, a lobbying and consulting firm in suburban Washington, D.C. – was critical Wednesday of VA's performance under President Barack Obama.

"The VA needs to change," Principi said. "It's been torn down. I mean, the morale in the VA is terrible. And it's gotta be rebuilt." He said unidentified officials "need to be gone."

Buyer, a former chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee who runs a Zionsville-based lobbying firm, said Young "will care for our veterans because it's in his blood" as a Naval Academy graduate and a former Marine.

Young told the four veterans attending the roundtable discussion that veterans issues "will be a priority of mine should I be the next United States senator for Indiana – making sure that you and folks like you and the next generation are cared for, because we have a sacred obligation to make sure that's the case."

After the session, The Journal Gazette asked Young whether having the veterans roundtable at the local GOP headquarters was politicizing veterans issues.

"I don't think so, no, because we've demonstrated that we are prepared to have them everywhere," he said.

"We've done probably 10 veterans events. This is the first time one that's been in a location like this. So no, I don't think it sends a wrong message," he said.

Young, Principi and Buyer conducted a veterans roundtable later Wednesday at Kosciusko County Republican Headquarters in Warsaw. 

bfrancisco@jg.net