Cleland was a captain in the 1st Calvary Division when he was wounded during the Battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam in 1968. As a result doctors amputated his right forearm and both legs above the knee. He was awarded both the Silver and Bronze Star for valor in combat.
In 2003, Cleland was elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia and served one term.
Cleland didn’t delve deeply in Reid’s campaign issues, focusing more on what the senator has done for veterans.
“Politics has gotten pretty crazy, and to a certain extent I’m glad that I’m not on the campaign trail for myself,” Cleland said, “In my current book I referred to my days in the Senate under the chapter, A Splendid Misery. I appreciate the splendor, but I didn’t enjoy the misery.
“I am here in Nevada because my friend Harry Reid is up for your confirmation one more time.
“I remember how as a junior senator I was visited by this senior senator when he came to my office and told me how much he didn’t want Nevada to become the nuclear waste dump for the country.
“At a time like this it is good to have a person in the Senate who has a steady hand and a mind that can keep focused on what is important. And Harry Reid is the kind of man that you can count on and trust to keep his word.
“In terms of VA health care, in 1975 I was sent out to Las Vegas as a staff member of the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee . . . to investigate the lack of veterans’ health care in Southern Nevada.
“At that time there was only a little outpatient clinic. Over the last decade Harry has worked feverishly to help local veterans. Since then the VA budget has increased some 45 percent, and nothing happens in the Senate unless the majority leader puts it on the calendar.
“And since Harry is the majority leader, he has been able to put the interest of the citizens of Nevada first all the time. And so it is no surprise to me that the VA budget has increased to such an extent.
“We are also going to see a dream that I had 30 some odd years ago come true, because somewhere around 2012 Southern Nevada will have a 90-bed VA hospital and special psychiatric unit, and a 120-bed nursing home. There will be around $600 million that will be spent exclusively for veterans in Southern Nevada.”
When a veteran asked about receiving help from the Veterans Administration in Southern Nevada, Cleland referred him to Reid’s veterans’ affairs office. Jim Brown, the head of the local Veterans Center, told Cleland how the local veterans office provides help in filling out forms, and how the group has been authorized to act as an advocate on behalf of the local veterans.
Some of the veterans at the meeting thought Cleland was disrespecting the work of the vetereans center when he told the man he should really go to Senator Reid’s office instead.
“While that is helpful,” said Cleland, “I can guarantee you that as a past administrator of the Veterans Administration, that whenever we got a congressional letter regarding a claim, that it wound up on my desk with a big red mark on it to be taken care of.
“So, being from Nevada you should go to Harry Reid’s office. This is where his position and clout comes into play, because if you are head of the Veterans Administration, you’ll pay particularly strong attention if that letter comes to you from the man who runs the body who confirms you.”
Cleland said that until the recent passage of the health care bill, the health care industry was in charge of a person’s health, and not the citizen’s advocate, the federal government. He said the health care industry fought this takeover for years. But now under the auspices of the federal government there have been several changes that will be “inflicted upon the health care industry” for the citizen’s benefit.
“If you have a youngster on your health care insurance plan, now they can stay on your health care insurance until the age 26,” said Cleland. “Secondly, if you have a young child with a chronic condition, now you can get that child covered, because they can no longer call it a pre-existing condition. And if you have a wife and she gets sick, the insurance company must cover her illness.
“So, for the first time in American history you have the government overseeing the health care insurance industry. And for those who are presently covered by insurance, they don’t yet understand it, and for those who are not covered under health care insurance, now they can be covered.
“This is the most far-reaching health care change since Medicare and Medicaid.”
Cleland was administrator of the United States Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. He is currently the secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission.