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State of the Union

Interview with Rudy Giuliani; Interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Interview with Sen. Patty Murray; Interview with Gen. Peter Chiarelli

Aired May 27, 2012 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: On Memorial Day weekend a new wave of veterans fall through the cracks of bureaucracy and presidential politics tied up and fired up.

Today, campaign 2012 with former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

I'm Candy Crowley, and this is "State of the Union."

Before we turn to Memorial Day and veterans, a visit to the campaign trail. Six months out from the election it has evened up: CNN's poll of polls find 47 percent of registered voters favor President Obama, 45 percent support Mitt Romney. The tight race makes for pointed rhetoric.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Governor Romney came to Des Moines last week, warned about a prairie fire of death. That's what he said, prairie fire. But, you know, he left out some facts. You know, his speech was more like a cow pie of distortion.


OBAMA: I don't know whose record he twisted the most, mine or his.


CROWLEY: With a 24/7 focus on the economy, the soon to be Republican nominee has begun to paint a picture of what a Romney White House would look like, starting with the jobless rate.


MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Over a period of four years by virtue of the policies we put in place, we get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent or perhaps a little lower.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Joining me is former New York Mayor and Romney supporter Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Mayor, you are also a former presidential candidate and a pretty astute observer of politics. So let me start out with the broad question, which is give me your most honest assessment of how you think the presidential race will play out this fall.

GIULIANI: Well, I think the presidential race will play out largely based on the view the people have of the economy. I think if you look at just the last four or five months, about two or three months ago President Obama was looking pretty good in the polls, people were feeling a little better about him, the economy was doing better, unemployment had come down, jobs had come up, and the market was doing well, over 13,000. Now jobs have teetered off, long-term unemployment seems to be at record levels. Nobody had really seemed to be looking at it, but long-term unemployment the highest it's been since the depression for a sustained period and the market is in bad shape. It's down to 12,400, 12,500.

Now I think Governor Romney has the better chance.

So you take that into September/October, if the economy doesn't improve between now and September or October, I don't think President Obama will be re-elected because I think it will be no matter how much President Obama tries to make it about Romney, more importantly it's going to be Obama's record, and if that record is a weak economy that doesn't look like it's going to get much better, I don't think he'll make it. If he gets an economy that starts improving, then it could be anybody's ball game.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about -- you were not always a Romney supporter, you know, until he became obviously the presumptive nominee. I want to remind you of something you told our Piers Morgan in December of last year describing Mitt Romney.


GIULIANI: Governor Romney has almost a perfect record for a person to be running right now, experience in government, experience in business, understands the economy, but there is something missing, you're absolutely right. There's some kind of a personal connection that doesn't get made that the other candidates probably do a better job at.


CROWLEY: So how does he make that personal connection? It's something that a lot of folks have observed. Is he beginning to do that in your view? Does he need to do more?


Well first of all, every candidate is, you know, 60/40, 70/30, 80/20, there's no perfect candidate, and the reality is all of us have our strengths and weaknesses. I think it's no secret that Governor Romney's problem during the primary was that idea of making a personal connection. It shows in the polls. And I think he's doing a much better job at it.

And, frankly, my advice to him would be, be yourself. I mean, if, in fact, you are a somewhat formal person, that's okay be a formal person.

Mrs. Reagan told me something when I first joined the Reagan board that I always remembered. She said that President Reagan, who she called Ronnie, President Reagan always kept his jacket on even in the Oval Office, always, because he wanted to remind himself of the dignity of being president of the United States.

So, I mean, that's who he was. So I think Governor Romney now that people see who he is, I think they're going to find a very intelligent, very engaged, very committed man who is the perfect choice for a period of time in which we have to revive the economy. I couldn't think of a better set of credentials to deal with the economy.

So maybe the personal part won't become as important.

CROWLEY: As you know, this is the time where a candidate who is lesser known obviously than the president of the United States does begin to define himself, and there's equal pushback at this point from the Obama re-election campaign trying to help Mitt Romney define himself. One of the things that the former governor of Massachusetts has kind of taken off the table and something you criticized in 2008 as well as earlier is his role as governor of Massachusetts. You criticized him on spending, you criticized him on taxes, you criticized him on health care when he was governor of Massachusetts.

You know all those items are likely to come up at some point brought up by, if no one else, the Obama re-election campaign. Speak to me now in your current role in defense of the things that you criticized before. How can he defend that record do you think against what surely will be some of the criticisms you yourself felt?

GIULIANI: Well, I mean, there's a certain amount of personal ego in that. At that point I was probably comparing his record to my record, and maybe it was circumstances or whatever, but I had massive reduction in unemployment. He had a reduction in unemployment of about 8 percent, 10 percent -- I think it was 15 percent. I had a reduction in unemployment of 50 percent. They had a growth of jobs of 40,000, we had a growth of jobs of 500,000. So I was comparing what I thought was my far superior record to his otherwise decent record, but the numbers weren't as great. That's all part of campaigning.

I mean, the simple fact is that Mitt Romney has been far more successful in the things that he's done than Barack Obama. I mean, going way back, this is a man who ran a significant business, made it into a tremendous success which used to be -- used to count for a lot in America. He created dozens of businesses. I work with him when he took the Olympics out of chaos. Remember, we had to do the Olympics in Utah just a few months after September 11th. They were going to cancel the Olympics.

CROWLEY: Right. GIULIANI: And Mitt Romney pulled it off and it was a great success.

This is a man, unlike President Obama, who had virtually no success before, just community organizer, state senate, never really had a payroll to meet or any responsibilities.

CROWLEY: Well, I'm not sure people would say that wasn't success, but he certainly was a community organizer, but now he's had four years of experience as president which isn't nothing at this point and one of their arguments is that that business experience that you're talking about that Mitt Romney is talking about doesn't really qualify him -- it's not a qualification to be president because it's a wholly different point of view. And here's something...

GIULIANI: But Candy... CROWLEY: Let me just -- hang on, I'm going to give you a chance to talk. I want to play something Joe Biden said.

GIULIANI: That's really jerky.

CROWLEY: Let me play something Joe Biden said.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your job as president is to promote the common good. That doesn't mean the private equity guys are bad guys, they're not. But that no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber.


CROWLEY: It's your turn.

GIULIANI: Well, I mean, the reality is that President Obama can talk about his record as president if he wants to look at something where he theoretically thinks he succeed, but he doesn't talk about his record as president. You know and I know that his campaign is running away from his record as president and basically they want to attack Romney.

When Ronald Reagan was running for re-election in '84, they spent a little time criticizing Mondale, but most of it was Morning in America, how he had turned around the country, the great successes he had because he had a record to run on. President Obama is running against -- and we have found what a president who has no experience is going to give us.

He's going to give us tremendous failure, the largest debt we've ever had, the highest levels of sustained long-term unemployment since the depression. I mean, our economy is a disaster under Obama. He vaguely knows what he's doing with regard to our economy.

CROWLEY: But the question here really is about Mitt Romney's credentials and he's put Bain as one of them out there. And this is an outfit that made great money, was very successful, but its business wasn't creating jobs, as you know. Its business was creating wealth for people which is a great thing in America, it's what we do, but their argument is that doesn't qualify you to be president.

GIULIANI: Well, what does qualify you to be president? Does being a community activist for a Saul Alinsky group, and then a member of a state legislature for a few years and kind arriving in the senate and running for president on day one, does that qualify you to be president?

Or does somebody who has run the Olympics, governor -- let me finish, run the Olympics, governor of one of our largest states, and run one of our most successful businesses in the country. Does that qualify you to be president of the United States?

GIULIANI: I mean, I don't think you can argue -- qualifications get decided by the voters. I would take Romney's background for an America that has to turn around its economy way over Obama's background which has basically been a theoretical kind of background. Never had any kind of responsibilities. Never ran a military unit.

CROWLEY: Mr. Mayor...

GIULIANI: Never ran a business. Yes?

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, I have to leave it there. We're on a tight run here today. But I appreciate your...

GIULIANI: OK. I think everybody got the point.

CROWLEY: I think they do. And what they know is they get to decide. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

GIULIANI: They do. Absolutely. Always good to be with you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

GIULIANI: Thank you.

CROWLEY: We want to turn now to the head of the Democratic National Committee, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Thank you so much for being here.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you, Candy. Great to be with you.

CROWLEY: Let me start out and just pick up with something that the mayor was talking about, saying, listen, you know, the American people decide about qualifications, saying that he would -- that certainly Mitt Romney is every bit as qualified to be president as President Obama was when he ran for president. Do you quibble with that?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, there's a few things actually that I agree with Rudy Giuliani on. Number one, the dramatic difference between Rudy Giuliani's job creation record and Mitt Romney's when he was given an opportunity to actually govern.

Massachusetts was 47th out of 50 in job creation coming off the last recession, and when Mitt Romney had an opportunity as a governor to demonstrate that he could take the central premise that he's using in this campaign for his qualification for president, which is his record at Bain Capital, to apply that in government in Massachusetts, he has an abysmal record.

When it comes to qualifications for president, I'd say that Rudy Giuliani is absolutely right. Barack Obama put his qualifications and his case that he made to the American people before them in 2008, and they elected him overwhelmingly against John McCain.

And so for the last three-and-a-half years, President Obama has had an opportunity to take us from the worst economic crisis that he inherited of any president since FDR and had 26 straight months of job growth in the private sector.

And let me also just quickly take issue with what Mayor Giuliani is saying. We are running on President Obama's incredible record of job growth. We've got a long way to go, but 26 straight months of job growth in the private sector, a resurgence in the manufacturing sector, an opportunity to rescue and thankfully rescue the American automobile industry when Mitt Romney would have let them go bankrupt.

So we have a record that we're proud to run on.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you this -- you would agree though we've been talking about Bain and so has the Obama re-elect committee for some time which isn't exactly the president's record.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And we will continue to do that, absolutely.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me show our viewers an ABC News/Washington Post poll. The question was, which candidate would do better on handling the economy? Romney, 47 percent, President Obama, 46. How about creating jobs? Obama, 47, Romney, 44. Essentially it is a dead heat.

Why is that? If you've done such a great job -- as Democrats, if this president does such a great job from bringing us back from the precipice, why do -- you know, why is it a dead heat that they think that Obama would do as much for jobs or the economy as the president?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, what we continue to maintain, I mean, this election was always going to be close and it will be close probably right down to the wire. President Obama has acknowledged that while we've made progress, he is not satisfied with the progress that we've made. We need to continue to push hard.

We've got a long way to go. But we have made progress by making investments in the economy, by striking a balance and making sure that through tax breaks for small businesses and the middle class, 18 different tax breaks for small businesses, an opportunity that we've taken advantage of to cut taxes for the middle class, make investments in opportunities for more students to go to college and get an opportunity to be successful.

While Mitt Romney continues to support returning to the failed policies of the past, Candy, and providing more and more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and making sure they can continue to do well.

CROWLEY: But, again, given that you're running on the record and the things that you want to do in the future, why is it so dead even at this point? Does it not say that a lot of the American people don't agree that this has been a great success?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, I think that if you look at the last few presidential elections, they've all been close. I mean, the American people are divided. We have a dramatic contrast, and completely different directions that the American people could choose to go in.

We believe that the American people will choose to go in the direction that Barack Obama has been taking us because he has been fighting for the middle class and working families and because he wants to make sure that everybody has a fair shot, everybody pays their fair share, and everybody pays by the same set of rules.

Mitt Romney wants to take us back to the policies that is got us into the worst economic crisis in the first place, let Wall Street write their own rules again, repeal health care reform, and put us in a situation where...

CROWLEY: Let me ask you...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... we could give hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to people who are already doing well instead of making sure everybody has an opportunity to do well.

CROWLEY: In a Quinnipiac University poll, specifically on your state, the state of Florida, well outside the margin of error here, when you ask folks who is your choice for president? Mitt Romney 47, Obama, 41. What is going on in Florida that makes the president outside the margin of error of sort of losing at this point?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: There are a number of different polls. That one poll is a snapshot. There are other polls that show it, you know, neck and neck or President Obama ahead in Florida. He's ahead in most of the battleground states, ahead in Ohio, ahead in Wisconsin, particularly because he was willing to invest and rescue the American automobile industry, make sure that the 1.4 million jobs in the pipeline of that industry remained, while Mitt Romney would have tossed them out and let Detroit go bankrupt.

This is going to be a close election, but when it comes to the battleground states that will really decide this election, ultimately it's a choice between Barack Obama, who has been fighting for the middle class and working families, who has been making investments in education and giving people opportunities to succeed, and Mitt Romney who -- and the tea party extremists who want to focus on the people who are already in America doing just great and make sure they can do even better. That's the contrast. CROWLEY: Let me move you to a couple other questions I have about other subjects. Wisconsin, there's a recall of the sitting Republican governor, recall movement. He's now leading in the polls up there. But it's coming up. You've said, look, yes, I don't think there's national implications to this, and yet you are going to spend some of your time up there fund-raising for the Democrat who is challenging the sitting Republican governor, campaigning for him.

If the Republican governor should retain his seat up there, what will it say about the power of unions who have been fighting him and what will it say about putting Wisconsin in play this fall?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I am going there Tuesday to campaign with Mayor Barrett. I think that he has a real opportunity to win. We have put our considerable grassroots resources behind him. All of the Obama for America and state party resources, our grassroots network is fully...

CROWLEY: But are there national implications?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... engaged. And -- well, I think what's going to happen is that because of our on-the-ground operation, we have had an opportunity in this election, because especially given that Wisconsin is a battleground state, just like we did in the recall elections a year ago, to give this a test run.

And so what I think the implications will be is that ultimately I think Tom Barrett will pull this out, but regardless it has given the Obama for America operation an opportunity to do...

CROWLEY: Test run it.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... the dry run that we need of our massive, significant, dynamic grassroots presidential campaign, which can't really be matched by the Romney campaign or the Republicans because they've ignored on the ground operations.

CROWLEY: And let me ask you, I have got 20 seconds, are you running for re-election? Will you file your papers soon?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh, yes. I already have done so. Of course I'm...


CROWLEY: You filed your papers. Yes, there was a question out there, folks said that you had not filed your papers. You're running.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I filed my papers ages ago. I'm not sure where that question came from. I mean, not from you, but from others. Of course I'm running for re-election and I look forward to earning the support once again of my constituents in my district in South Florida.

CROWLEY: OK. Thanks. You might want to look at the statewide election site and correct... WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Oh yes.


CROWLEY: ... out there.


CROWLEY: Thanks so much. All right.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm fully compliant. Thanks so much.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. The head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. We appreciate it.


CROWLEY: On this Memorial Day weekend, a report card on how this country is caring for its warriors.


SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: We have made progress. We have a long ways to go, and we cannot forget.


CROWLEY: Serving those who serve, when we come back.


CROWLEY: Caring for our veterans. A year after we first asked, we asked again. Benefits with the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, Patty Murray.


MURRAY: Paying for our veterans is a cost of war. Do we have the resources in this country to provide for those men and women and their families for a long time to come? And that question hasn't been answered.


CROWLEY: PTSD and brain injuries with Retired General Peter Chiarelli.


CHIARELLI: We just don't know enough about how the brain works. We just do not have the really good diagnostic tools we need.


CROWLEY: Jobs with veteran advocates, Tim Tetz and Paul Rieckhoff. (START VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're coming back and saying, OK I just served my country. Now I find myself jobless. What can I do to get myself back in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something that the country finally is focused on. And people understand that veterans are not just a charity, they're an investment.


CROWLEY: Serving those who serve, when we return.


CROWLEY: Joining me is the Chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Patty Murray in Washington. Senator, thank you for being here.

MURRAY: Great to be here.

CROWLEY: Memorial Day is such a great day to talk about those that were lucky enough to come home. But how they are being served by the population as a whole. We now have sequestration. That is an agreement that there would be huge cuts in the defense and non- discretionary domestic spending if Congress couldn't act on their own to get an equal amount of cuts. How will that affect veterans benefits?

MURRAY: Well first of all let me thank you for doing this to really focus the country where we should be on Memorial Day. On those men and women who have served us. Those who have lost a family member, we can never forget. And those who come home, we've got to make sure we're doing everything we can. So, I really appreciate it. Sequestration is something that all of us have to be concerned about. We've got some real big decisions coming at us.

We believe that veterans benefits are protected under that, as they should be. Because we have asked these men and women to go to war. They should not be making the sacrifice.

CROWLEY: So you're -- you're thinking that they won't be touched as is. So I guess the next question is, as is, are the veterans benefits and the increases they've asked for in the next budget enough?

MURRAY: Well I think that's an interesting question to answer. Because they're -- it -- it's -- it ties not just to the benefits that they've getting, or supposed to get, but -- which we will have budgeted for. But, are they getting it in a timely way? Are they getting accurate benefits? Are we correctly diagnosing PTSD as they leave the military? Are we doing everything we can to make sure that they get access to the -- their benefits in the right kind of way, fast? So it's -- it's resources, but it's a lot bigger.

CROWLEY: And -- and my -- my guess is that your answer to all those questions is, no?

MURRAY: My answer to every question you would ask me about veterans today versus a year ago, is we've made progress. We have a long ways to go and we cannot forget.

CROWLEY: Except for, is it progress? Because now I guess the -- we have a new report out that the waiting -- the backlog first of all is over -- about 900,000 disability benefit applications. So the backlog is closing in on a million for Heaven's sakes. And that the waiting period can be more than a year?

MURRAY: Yeah. You know that...


CROWLEY: Is that acceptable? MURRAY: No, it's not acceptable. It -- it doesn't meet the guidelines of the V.A. It doesn't meet what the country expects. And it has a serious impact on a veteran who is waiting to get a benefit check to pay -- put food on the table or pay for their mortgage or just do basic things in their life. So it is unacceptable. There -- there is the...


CROWLEY; Don't we say that...


CROWLEY: ...I guess the frustration is, I feel like you and I and certainly you have worked on this for -- for far longer than I have reported on this. And the question is, why doesn't anything ever seem to change much?

MURRAY: You know, it -- it is such a complex problem. And I -- I'm not going to give anybody excuses. But I do need to remind all of us that the injuries that our soldiers are coming home with today, what they are living through that previous generations of warriors did not survive? Are very complex. But that doesn't mean we should not be doing what we can do. Or...


CROWLEY: More are surviving.


CROWLEY: That's the good news.

MURRAY: More are surviving.


CROWLEY: ...we're not taking care of them well enough.

MURRAY: They're complex. They're complex cases. So rating them and getting the right disability rating is complex. But that means we need to have people who are trained up and -- and we were not prepared for a war that's lasted this long with that many soldiers who have had repeated deployments.

CROWLEY: I guess that's people's frustration with the government though is though as the war went on, someone should have been thinking, this war could go on for a while and it will mean that we'll have X many more veterans.


MURRAY: I've been screaming about that forever.


CROWLEY: With these sorts of...


CROWLEY: ...absolutely. And I think now we have something that sounds so simple. At the -- the V.A. and the Department of Defense have different rating systems for the disabilities. Now why can't someone just say, you know choose one? Pick one?

MURRAY: I met with a soldier, a sergeant who had three -- was it three IED explosions? Served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. Was diagnosed by the Army for that. But then when he went to get out of the service they said, oh you were lying. You're a malingerer. You didn't have anything wrong. You're making this up. Can you imagine somebody who has the courage to say I'm having issues is told they're a liar? He was dismissed from the Army and not given the benefits he's earned. We have fought back, not just for him but for hundreds of people now who were misdiagnosed coming out of the Army.

They're now going back and doing a total review, but I am seriously worried about the hundreds of men and women who have left our military with an incorrect diagnosis. We have got to get this right. The Army is starting to do it. We need to do it across all services.

CROWLEY: Is just with mental health, whether it's TBI, traumatic brain injury or PTSD or other sorts of stresses that are brought on by combat or by being in the arena, is there enough money set aside to deal with what -- I mean, there's almost half a million we're looking at of veterans returning or soldiers returning that will suffer from some form of PTSD.

MURRAY: Yes, this is a question our country needs to come to grips with. This is not just going to be what do we need next year or what do we need as we pull out our soldiers from Iraq, but the costs of 10 years of war on a specific population are going to be felt for decades.

And we need to say, do we have the resources in this country to provide for those men and women and their families for a long time to come? And that question hasn't been answered. (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Is there a no to that question, though, just quickly? Do we have the resources? We can't afford not to have them, can we?

MURRAY: I think we have to absolutely be on top of this and asking that question. You know, we're in this time period where everybody says I don't want to pay any more, I don't want to be involved. We sent our troops to war without paying for it. Now we're bringing them home without saying how we're going to pay for it. That's going to hurt every American in the future.

CROWLEY: Senator Patty Murray, thank you, on Memorial Day. We appreciate your time. MURRAY: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Tackling the hidden wounds of war. That's next.


GEN. PETER CHIARELLI (RET.): If we can't really (inaudible) severe traumatic brain injury, is it's very, very hard for us to treat --


CROWLEY: When we spoke with General Peter Chiarelli last year, he was in uniform and pushing the cause of America's warriors who suffer brain injuries.


CHIARELLI: These hidden injuries of war, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury and other behavioral health issues, have been with us forever.

CROWLEY (voice-over): A year later, Chiarelli has left the service but not the cause.

CHIARELLI: And I don't want this generation to follow in these same footsteps. These aren't new problems. These are diseases that have been with us forever.


CROWLEY: A severe brain trauma can be a gateway injury leading to depression, anxiety, drug use or, in some cases, suicide. Early detection may help those most in need.


CHIARELLI: We believe we're close to having a biomarker that's going to allow us to go up with a small assay machine and you're going to be able to take a quick blood sample and tell if somebody has had a concussion.

CROWLEY (voice-over): A year later. CHIARELLI: Well, I think we're a year closer to that.


CROWLEY: Of all the figures we can tell you, this one stopped us in our tracks. The VA estimates 18 veterans commit suicide every day, that is more than 6,500 a year. Put differently, more veterans die of suicide in a year than the enemy has killed in a decade. Next with General Chiarelli, a report card on how America cares for those wounded in ways the eye cannot see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Joining me, retired General Peter Chiarelli. He retired as the Army's vice chief of staff earlier this year. He is now the CEO of One Mind for Research, an organization dedicated to curing brain disorders.

General, thank you so much for being here. So I wanted to get a sort of an annual checkup with you and ask you how you think the U.S. is doing in so far as concerned our veterans when they come home with either traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. Has anything changed from when we last talked a year ago?

GEN. PETER CHIARELLI (RET), FRM. VICE CHIEF OF STAFF, U.S. ARMY: Well, I think we're doing as best as we possibly can, but the problem is we just do not have the really good diagnostic tools we need that in every case we can see who is being afflicted both with post- traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury is a beautiful example, caused by some kind of concussive event. I have seen study that is indicate that patients who are initially diagnosed with having mild traumatic brain injury at the time of their injury are doing far worse than some patients who were diagnosed with severe traumatic brain injury at the time of their injury.

So if we can't really even tell what mild, moderate, and severe traumatic brain injury is, it's very, very hard for us to treat them effectively.

CROWLEY: And what's in the way of this? I know we talked last year, and you thought we were quite near what you called a bio marker, where a simple blood test might be able to tell you if someone had suffered a concussion. How far away are we from that kind of technology?

CHIARELLI: Well, I think we're a year closer to that. And I have great hope that we will see a bio marker not only for traumatic brain injury but the possibility a little further down the road, some kind of a bio marker for post-traumatic stress. I think those are absolutely critical. That's kind of like having a blood pressure cuff for high blood pressure, to tell whether or not a person has post- traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury and the severity of that injury.

CROWLEY: And what is standing in the way between those kinds of breakthroughs and right now? Is it money? CHIARELLI: It's money. It's focusing the science. It's connecting the dots. The whole area of brain disease is so stove piped into all the different diseases of the brain.

CROWLEY: And, general, I want to remind you of something that you said to me last year when you said what we need is a focused effort on the research to get behind the causes and the remedies for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, much as you're saying now.


CHIARELLI: I want congress to provide as much as they can to these research efforts. I think they're absolutely critical. And I got to tell you I worry, given the fiscal situation, that some of the money that's being used to do this critical research is going to dry up.


CROWLEY: has it dried up?

CHIARELLI: Well, I can't tell you that yet, but I think you've got to expect to see cuts. What I hope we'll do is I hope we'll do what one mind is trying to do, and that's focus on the most prominent research, the best research, and try to scale that to a number of patients that's going to allow us to find the kinds of better patient outcomes that we need.

CROWLEY: Retired General Peter Chiarelli, the former vice chief of staff at the army, thank you so much for your time this morning. Happy Memorial Day to you.

CHIARELLI: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Jobs, veterans, and the VA with two veteran advocates when we come back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 17 percent of the folks who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home to an unemployment check.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Making them sit there and languish for 400 days while in some barracks on some base is absolutely an atrocity.


CROWLEY: I am joined by Tim Tetz, legislative director of the American Legion and Paul Rieckhoff founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Thank you for joining us for our annual conversation, let's call it that, because this is such an important issue, and I remember last year both of you said to me when I said what's the most important problem facing vets crossing all wars, you said unemployment.

Mr. Rieckhoff, is that still the same answer?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Yes, it is. I think we've made huge progress. There's now a national conversation around the value of hiring a veteran. The first lady and the president have been out in front. Fortune 500 companies have been out in front, but the bottom line is we see a 17 percent unemployment rate for IAVA members, that means that 17 percent of the folks who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home to an unemployment check. So that's unacceptable. We also know that the economy is still very tough, the military will be downsizing. And folks are facing some transitional challenges.

CROWLEY: Mr. Tetz, I want to put up for our viewers the nature of the vet unemployment problem at this point which shows that certainly Gulf War era -- the second Gulf War era, young males, 18 to 24, the unemployment rate is 17.3 percent. The good news I guess in that is that it used to be 29 percent just a year ago. So clearly there has been improvement, but why do you think, particularly for that category of veterans, and that's, let's face it, most of these veterans are young, why does that remain such a problem to get employers to hire on top of obviously hasn't been the best economy?

TIM TETZ, AMERICAN LEGION: You know, I think what's unique about that population is that 18 percent number in comparison to the non- veterans in that case, the non-veterans are 15 percent unemployment in that same age cohort. So that is still a striking number, that's still far worse than other eras, but we are having a hard time having young people get jobs today.

But the biggest, scariest number I think more than that 18 percent is the fact of the 780,000 veterans who are currently out of a job, two-thirds of them are between the ages of 35 and 64, and they might not have the resources like the GI Bill and many of the other things that these younger veterans have to use.

CROWLEY: I want to play something that Mr. Rieckhoff you told me when we last spoke a year ago. And we were talking about veterans' disability benefits and applying for those benefits and how long it took to get them. Here is what you had to say.


RIECKHOFF: Every VA secretary comes in and says, I'm going to break the backlog and every VA secretary leaves and says the next guy has to break the backlog. It hasn't happened yet.


CROWLEY: Has it happened yet? Last I saw the backlog is something like 900,000, almost there. And it is taking up to 400 days to get some of these things processed. It seems like it's gotten worse.

RIECKHOFF: It has. It's definitely gotten worse. And it's gotten worse at the local level. RIECKHOFF: It is 870,000 claims that are still backlogged. The average veteran is waiting six months for a disability claim to go through. If you appeal, it resets to two years.

So the system is broken. And what we've seen is veterans at the local level are incredibly frustrated. In San Francisco this week there was a town hall meeting where over 200 veterans came out to talk about their disability claims that had been backlogged. San Francisco has become like ground zero, and Oakland, that area, for this problem. Two hundred veterans...

CROWLEY: Whose fault is this? I mean, it seems like every year the backlog gets longer. The amount of time, you know, to wait for it is longer. Whose fault is that?

RIECKHOFF: Well, it has got to be the VA's fault. I mean, the secretary has got to take this head-on. And the president has got to get involved. I mean, the president has not been aggressive in tackling this backlog, which continues to plague our veterans nationwide.

And there was an IG report that just came out a few weeks ago that said the VA is also failing to rapidly respond to mental health needs. The average wait time for a mental health appointment is 50 days.

In San Francisco it's over 300 days...

CROWLEY: Which is crazy.

RIECKHOFF: That's absolutely (INAUDIBLE)...


CROWLEY: Someone suffering from a mental health problem of any sort can't wait that long. Otherwise...

RIECKHOFF: Right, absolutely.

CROWLEY: ... that becomes a risk to society, does it not, Mr. Tetz?

TETZ: I think that's a risk to society and we're setting ourselves up for failure before these folks even leave the military. You know, we had a hearing yesterday in the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, and we basically discovered that people who started -- you know, over a year ago they were identified by their commanding officer as perhaps unfit for duty because of an injury or an illness, when they started their disability evaluation system, a newfangled system that we created in 2008.

If they started that over a year, they'd still be languishing in that system. It took them 404 days to get them through that process, to evaluate them, to determine, yes, we can no longer use you in the military. Yes, here are your VA benefits. And then two months after discharge, getting them their benefits. I mean, that's setting them up, whether they have a mental health injury or whether they're merely wanting to get back into school or a job, making them sit there and languish for 400 days while in some barracks on some base is absolutely an atrocity.

CROWLEY: I want to ask the two of you something that's a little outside your zone, but I am curious about it. The president this week has put out a new political ad about his support for the military, obviously an attempt to take away what has generally been a demographic, that is the military, that has been Republican.

The last time, in the last election in 2008, President Obama won 44 percent of the military vote, but John McCain won 54 percent of the vote. First, do you think that in any way shows any signs of changing? That the military vote might be coming more toward the Democratic Party?

And second, why do you think it is that in general military families tend to lean -- tend to vote more Republican? Let's start with you, Mr. Tetz.

TETZ: You know, I don't see amongst my peers, my friends, and those serving in the military that, you know, they're Republicans, Democrats. And you certainly don't wear it on your dog tags or on your uniform.

They look out for what's in the best interests of their family and themselves and their country. And when they're sitting there and evaluating how a commander-in-chief did, they sit there and look, well, how many times did I have to deploy? What was I given in return for that? What am I charged for my Tricare rates? How is my family cared for while I'm gone? How am I cared for when I come back?

And if the president can go out there and say, this is what I did for you as a president and this is how I had your back when you were out there, then he's going to do fairly well. If he can't demonstrate that and how it affected them personally, he's going to have a tough road to hoe.

CROWLEY: Mr. Rieckhoff, final word on that?

RIECKHOFF: Veterans are a political "jump ball." And they're not really -- they're demographically pretty mixed, especially the younger generation. And they want to see candidates working for their vote.

They're very independent-minded, and nobody has got this locked up, and especially this year where neither candidate is a military veteran themselves. So Mitt Romney and the president are both going to have to work hard and show how they've made an impact in the past, and how they're really going to get things like the backlog done.

How are they going to protect veterans from for-profit schools that have been predatory lately? How are they going to support the G.I. Bill, and really help them and their families at the local level?

We are really focused on country first more than any other community, and we're looking for a candidate who is going to do the same.

CROWLEY: Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; and Tim Tetz, legislative director of the American Legion. Thank you for your time today. Thank you both for your service. Have a good Memorial Day weekend.

TETZ: Thank you.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Candy. We appreciate it very much.

CROWLEY: We asked Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to join us this week, but we were told his schedule was full. We are struck by both the growing backlog at the VA as well as the stories of some service members who have been deemed unfit for service due to an injury, but have to wait up to 400 days or more to be discharged from the military. If this is happening to you or someone you know, please send us an e-mail,, and use "Lost in the System" in the subject line.

More in a moment.


CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories. Syrian rebels say a U.N.-backed peace plan for the country is dead after yesterday's massacre of at least 85 people in the town of Hula, 32 of those killed were children. Opposition leaders blame the Syrian government for the deaths. The Syrian government says regional and Western enemies, including the U.S., are responsible for the violence.

Two candidates appear headed for a runoff in Egypt's presidential election. Polls show Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in first place, followed by Ahmed Shafik, who was prime minister in ousted President Hosni Mubarak's government. The next round of voting is set for next month.

Sub-tropical Storm Beryl is expected to dump several inches of rain along the Florida and South Carolina coast today. There are already beach closures. At least 20 people were rescued off Tybee Island, Georgia, near Savannah because of rip currents.

Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION. Find today's interviews, some analysis, and Web exclusives at on this Memorial Day weekend, take time to say thanks to America's troops, vets, and the loved ones so many have left behind. "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS" starts right now.