State Sen. Eric Stewart meets with Rutherford County veterans Oct. 30, 2012, during a campaign stop in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/D. Whittle)
Earlier this year, state Sen. Eric Stewart went to the support of military veterans who were about to be tossed out of the substance abuse housing program at the York VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro.
This week, some Tennessee veterans fired volleys of support back toward Stewart, a Democrat, in his campaign to unseat embattled Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in November election.
“We’re here because he is a friend to veterans and their families,” said decorated Vietnam War veteran Spencer Dixon, who works as a therapist at the VA Medical Center.
When The Murfreesboro Post broke the story in February about VA officials shutting the building that housed up to 25 veterans in the substance abuse program, Stewart responded.
Stewart is seeking to unseat DesJarlais, who has become embroiled in campaign controversy this election cycle, when it was disclosed he had, in a recorded phone conversation, asked a mistress to have an abortion.
Last week, the Chattanooga Times-Free Press added fuel to the political fire under DesJarlais when a second woman came forward, claiming to have also had a relationship with him while he was still married.
She also alleged that they occasionally smoked marijuana and he had written prescriptions for her while on dates.
DesJarlais has since publicly called the second female a liar.
Stewart discussed his support of soldiers and families at a press conference held Tuesday in Murfreesboro.
“When we ask our young soldiers and families to serve our nation, we need to serve them in return, as in promised health care, education and job retraining,” Stewart said.
Dixon, 64, became a therapist after spending six months in military hospitals from wounds he received during a Viet Cong ambush. He credits his war dog, named “Shack,” with saving his life in that attack.
“We appreciate his efforts on behalf of veterans and their benefits as a state senator,” he said. “He can have a huge impact as a congressman in Washington, D.C.”
Retired U.S. Army three-star Gen. John Castellaw echoed Dixon’s support for Stewart.
“I know Eric and his family as good, solid down-to-earth Tennesseans,” said Castellaw, who resides in Alamo, Tenn., when not lobbying Congress on behalf of veterans from his Washington, D.C., office.
“It’s very important for the morale of soldiers and their families, to know that someone like Eric, when elected, will have their backs in the halls of Congress,” Castellaw said during a press conference Tuesday at the Bumpas Harley-Davidson Motorcycle dealership complex in Murfreesboro.
Stewart acknowledged the support of Vietnam veterans Carl Berning, of Milton, and Michael Cowger, of Smyrna.
“We thank you for your service to our country and to the sacrifices your families made,” Stewart said.
Cowger, who serves as treasurer of the Rutherford County Democratic Party, said he attended Stewart has shown a commitment to address issues that affect veterans.
“My wife and I are veterans,” said Cowger, who flew reconnaissance flights over Laos and Vietnam. “We believe the soldiers and their families in Tennessee will be supportive of Stewart, because Democrats have been instrumental in restoring college benefits much like the World War II veterans had.”
Berning, who served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, said he wanted Stewart to know that there are veterans in Rutherford County who support his bid for Congress.
“We want Stewart to know that we have his back in this election,” he said. “Plus, I’m just a plain ole’ Yellow Dog Democrat.”