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Col. McCalister flubs question about VA eligibility at Tiger Bay forum

GOP Senate candidate Mike McCalister said this week he’s “just a regular guy.’’ Unlike Republican primary opponents George LeMieux and Adam Hasner, he’s “not a polished politician.’’

He supported that notion Friday by muffing a question about VA eligibility.

McCalister, a retired colonel in the Army reserves, has made military expertise a central theme in his campaign. But when he wore his uniform to a political fundraiser recently, some vets and their families took umbrage.

That includes Jessica Lillesand, who posed a question at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon where McCalister was speaking. Her husband is a lieutenant colonel on active duty. She wanted to explore McCalister’s opposition to government-backed health care.

Does McCalister favor limiting VA benefits to veterans with combat experience?

“It’s my understanding that it needs to be a military-related illness,’’ he said.

“No, it doesn’t,’’ countered Lillesand, a Clearwater disability lawyer.

“No? Okay,’’ McCalister said.

For the record, explains that many veterans receive VA care. Service connected disability or illness is not a requirement. Once corrected, McCalister said he opposes cutting back current VA benefits. The government made promises to veterans, including those who did not see combat, he said. Those promises should not be unilaterally broken.

Stephen Nohlgren, Times Staff Writer