Senate Candidate Hears Concerns from Veterans

By: Jerri Brouse
The Standard-Journal
March 10, 2024

LEWISBURG, PENN. — U.S. Senate Republican Candidate Dave McCormick sat down with a handful of area veterans Saturday at the Lewisburg Hotel, ready to to hear from voters on their concerns about the direction of the country and what specific challenges they are facing in the community.

McCormick shared why he is running to represent the people of Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C., and discussed his unique perspective as someone who served in the U.S. military.

McCormick was born and raised just outside of Pittsburgh, and is a West Point graduate, a Gulf War veteran and recipient of the Bronze Star. He and his wife, Dina, are the parents of six daughters. In September, McCormick announced his second U.S. Senate campaign. He is seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. in the 2024 election.

The discussion opened with those in attendance introducing themselves, and McCormick giving an overview of why he was there.

“I hate to go to the negative, but what is the state of the support you have? What needs to improve?

What’s working and not working?” he asked. “I’m trying to get a sense of what it’s like being a veteran of 20 years or five years — are there gaps that need to be fixed?”

U.S. Army Retired Sgt. Kevin Bittenbender said one area that needs focus is housing needs.

“I work with a group in Pennsylvania that helps facilitate grants for those struggling financially,” he said. “With the prices of food and housing, that’s not effectively covered by a veteran’s disability. They can’t afford living month to month.”

Bittenbender said a lot of veterans are struggling to make ends meet, and he is thankful there are non-profits that exist to help fight their needs.

“Some things need to be put into place to help them get through,” he said. “It isn’t getting any easier, especially through the winter months.”

Another area that needs attention is transitional care, which Bittenbender said “lacks huge.”

“Once you leave the military, there is no followup,” he said. “We need to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Bittenbender continued, noting that suicide rates among veterans is high, and because of the stigma attached to mental health issues, many don’t get the help they need.

“While you’re in, there is a stigma,” he said. “I am a suicide survivor and I’ve used my experience, I share it with others.”

McCormick called Bittenbender’s admission “courageous.”

Larry Stout, of Montgomery, has been a recruiter for years in Lycoming County. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, having served from 1976 to 1984.

“In the old days, it was more of a culture (to serve your country), but that has changed completely,” said Stout.

Not only are fewer people enlisting, those who are in the shape to actually be in combat are fewer and farther between, he said.

“It literally takes them a year just to get in shape to be able to pass the most basic tests,” he said.

“They’ve dropped a lot of rules and standards across the board for enlistment.”

Stout said he is concerned about what the future holds.

“What kind of military are we going to have?” He asked. “A small core of Rangers and those who really fight?”

He acknowledged that most people are not encouraging their kids serve.

“I myself have a lot of reticence about our young ones serving in the climate with the leadership we have,” he said. “It’s been disaster after disaster. There is no faith in the leadership (of the country.)”

Matt Stamm agreed, and said after spending 20 years believing there was a reason for his service, overnight, that feeling was gone.

“If I can see it,” he said. “I have an 8 year old and he won’t be serving. Why should he? To serve who?”
Bittenbender said he believes it will take another terrorist attack, like 9-11, to get people wanting to get involved again.

“Post 9-11 we experienced a stream of heightened patriotism,” he said. “But then we see how the rules of engagement have been changing … one day you have the right to defend yourself, the next day you have to wait it out.”

Bittenbender remarked how in the past an enlisted person could go to college without loans, but the new generation has no incentive to go and be part of the military.

“The generation that is growing up now wasn’t around for 9-11,” he said. “It may take another one to solidify this country and its patriotism.”

McCormick took note of the “rough picture” that has been painted of where the country, but stood firm on his belief that things can get better.

“You can’t be in politics unless you’re an optimist,” he said. “If you look at our history as a country, we get to the edge of the cliff and we pull ourselves back.”

He said he knows that “one senator from Pennsylvania isn’t going to change the country, but that “a couple people in the right places can make a difference.”

“If I win this election, I’ll be in the position of being a voice,” he said.

McCormick said he is ready to “get in and push that rock up the hill.”

“Everywhere I go, one thing I feel is that people see we are in trouble, and there is the idea that this is the most important election of a lifetime,” he said. “People have been saying that forever, but this one is, and that’s why it feels good to be in the arena.”