Obama Embraces Tearful Veteran
By NEDRA PICKLER
Keywords: Barack Obama, veterans, cry, tears, tearful, sob, weep, embrace, hug, benefits, health care, coverage, war, military, homeless, Mason City, Iowa, Andrew Hampton
MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa voter who at first was teased by Democrat Barack Obama ended up in a tearful embrace with the Illinois senator and presidential candidate during a campaign stop Wednesday.
Retired Air Force veteran Andrew Hampton grew emotional when he rose to ask Obama what he would do to ensure that others leaving the military get the health benefits they were promised.
Obama called on Hampton during a question-and-answer session at the first stop in his final slog through Iowa before the Jan. 3 caucuses. He said he felt bad about the impression he might leave calling on Hampton because he was wearing an Obama T-shirt, so he urged him to "make it a tough question." The crowd chuckled but soon grew quiet as it became obvious that Hampton was having a hard time speaking without breaking down.
"I feel strongly about my question," Hampton said as he paused to compose himself. He said he joined the Air Force on active duty in 1956 and was promised health benefits. He retired in 1988 and didn't get coverage because of "political decisions." He said eventually he got what he was owed.
"For that I'm very grateful because I stand before you alive today because of the surgery on my heart and a pacemaker, which you paid for and I want to thank the public," he said to other voters gathered in a high school gymnasium. "But there are other veterans who have been denied health care."
He said he was especially worried about the veterans currently returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with terrible injuries, and left to the whims of a Congress that "plays hollow politics" by deciding how much health care they receive.
"We can't desert them," a weepy Hampton told Obama. The crowd responded with a standing ovation, and Obama walked over and hugged him.
"You made the essential point, which is you earned your benefits," Obama said. He said if elected president, he would take care of veterans as a way of encouraging future generations to enter the military, as well as provide mental health screening and adopt a "zero tolerance" policy for homeless veterans.
"We have to fund all the services that have been promised to our veterans," Obama said. "We can't play politics with it."