Kerry talks with local veterans

By Billy Corriher

On his way to a fundraiser in Atlanta, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry stopped at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to talk with Georgia veterans about their concerns going into the presidential election.

Kerry, a Massachusetts senator with a decorated Navy service record in Vietnam, spoke with veteran Ray Jones, a Rex native.

"I was impressed big-time," he said after meeting with Kerry.

Ray Jones, who served in the same division as former Georgia Senator Max Cleland in Vietnam, said he liked Kerry's strong stance on improving veteran's benefits.

"I'd definitely like to see more money for the vets," he said.

Retired Lt. Col. Donnie Lister drove from Grovetown, an Augusta suburb, to meet Kerry.

Lister said he's also concerned about veteran's benefits for current soldiers, but he hasn't made up his mind about the presidential election.

"We've got a lot of vets coming home, I hope soon, and we've still got issues with veteran's benefits," he said.

And even though the candidate is a fellow veteran, Lister said that's not enough to automatically earn Kerry his support.

"I'd say I'm in the middle of the road right now," he said.

Lister said that comparing President Bush's service in the National Guard to Kerry's record is unrelated to Bush's ability to lead today.

"When you've got leadership ability, and you look back at something that happened 20 years ago, that's irrelevant," he said. "(Bush) did take us through 9/11."

Lithonia native Tim Jones said he has made up his mind to support Kerry partly because of his ideas for veterans.

"He's the only candidate who has a program for veterans returning from combat," he said.

Tim Jones, who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, said he has had problems getting adequate medical service through his veteran's benefits.

"I've had to wait six months for a doctor's appointment," he said.

Tim Jones said he didn't foresee these kinds of problems with veteran's benefits when he was in the Army, and he doubts soldiers fighting overseas are considering them either.

"I'm willing to bet the troops over there now are not thinking about it," he said. "But there's going to be a rude awakening for them if something's not done with this system."

Kerry appeared at a reception in downtown Atlanta Monday night, attracting 650 people and raising about $1 million.

Kerry was scheduled to fly from Atlanta to Tampa following Monday night's reception.

Kerry spoke with the veterans for about 10 minutes but did not field questions from reporters before leaving the airport.

Earlier in Florida, Kerry continued to criticize Bush for what he said was a lack of success in bringing other countries into the war in Iraq.

"We need a president who knows that if you're going to accomplish a mission in Iraq in the best possible way with the least risk to our soldiers and the least cost to the American people, you're better off having other people involved with you and not doing it alone," Kerry said.

"Never in the time we've been in Washington ... have we seen as little serious governance and as much ideology and rigidity driving the governing of a great nation as it is today," Kerry said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.