Washington Babylon — June 1, 2010, 10:19 am

“It has been a tremendous honor to have served”: Congressman Gary Miller’s Vietnam Odyssey

[Editor’s note: After this item ran, Miller’s office contacted Congress.org (and apparently several other publications cited below) to correct the misinformation about his military record.]

Congressman Gary Miller of California has a long and checkered history of ethical run-ins since being elected to the House of Representatives in 1998. For those keeping score at home, please consult this report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has rated him as one of the most corrupt members of Congress.

It turns out that Miller, who is on the Republican leadership team as assistant whip, also appears to have seriously inflated his military background. He hasn’t done so in as grand a manner as Richard Blumenthal, but the situation raises serious questions about his honesty (as if there weren’t enough already).

According to his bio page at Congress.org, which is published by the CQ-Roll Call Group, Miller served in the military between 1967 and 1968. The same information about Miller appears on a variety of other websites, including at the American Legion and Project Vote Smart, where it specifies that he served in the U.S. Army.

The Vietnam War was at its peak during the 1967-1968 period; to claim that you served during that period offers the suggestion that you saw combat or were at least deployed overseas, in the same way that saying you served in the Army in 1943 to 1944 would suggest World War II experience.

Miller never got anywhere near Vietnam. According to his military record, he spent about seven weeks in boot camp at Fort Ord, California between early-September and late-October 1967, at which point he was discharged.

What was Miller doing during the War? His biography states that he attended Mount San Antonio Community College between 1968 and 1970, founded several housing and realty companies that latter year, and got married in 1972.

“Congressman Miller volunteered to the U.S. Army and was Honorably Discharged due to medical reasons within a matter of months,” Jessica L. Baker, a spokeswoman, said in an email reply to questions about the matter. “While we cannot control what other websites say about Congressman Miller’s military service, the official website for the House of Representatives states that Congressman Miller served in 1967. (You can see this by visiting the following link).

So it seems, based on Baker’s reply, that a variety of websites have chosen, for reasons unknown, to simply make up information about Miller’s military service. And there’s nothing Miller’s office can do to stop them.

However, Congress.org says it receives all of its biographical information directly from the offices of elected officials. Project Vote Smart says that it collects data “from the candidate or elected official’s website” and that every candidate for office “is sent a copy of our biographical form” when they receive the group’s “Political Courage Test,” which asks for the candidate’s stance on a host of issues. Miller gave a detailed reply to Vote Smart’s Political Courage Test in 2008 so presumably he and his office supplied and reviewed his biographical information at the time.

Miller’s military service is also described in a biographical item about him that appears on the website of Mount San Antonio Community College, which in 2003 named him Alumnus of the Year. “In 1967, Congressman Miller joined the United States Army and served his country during the Vietnam War,” it says. Who, if not Miller, told the college that?

In 1996 and 1997, Miller had a seat in the California State Assembly. His biography in the official guide to members for both of those years says he served in the Army between 1967 and 1968.

Then there is Miller’s entry in “Once a soldier…Always a soldier, which is published by the Association of the United States Army and highlights military veterans in Congress. The foreword, written by retired Brigadier General Hal Nelson, described the book as being about a “particular set of legislators” who serve “as a testament to selfless service to our nation.”

While it is limited to telling the story of those currently serving in Congress who have roots in the United States Army, it can be seen as one chapter in our nation’s history stretching back to the days of the Continental Congress. The leaders who forge our laws have always been among those who have put their lives on the line in military service.

“It has been a tremendous honor to have served in the U.S. Army,” Miller wrote in a comment that accompanied the section about him, which said he was a private in 1967. “The American people owe their freedom and liberties to those who serve in the armed forces. They are indebted to those who have made the ultimate sacrifices for their country in previous world conflicts.” He added, “The leadership skills which I experienced in the U.S. Army allow me to take the lead on issues which promote a stronger defense.”

This is a far more dramatic statement than those made by members of congress featured in the book who actually fought in world conflicts. And other members who never saw actual combat were more forthcoming about that fact. To take just one example, Georgia Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. wrote:

I am proud of my association with the Army. My military service ended sooner than the Army and I had planned when the discovery of a health condition led to an early Honorable Discharge. Nevertheless, I continue to be guided by the lessons that I learned as an Army ROTC Cadet in the classroom and on the drill field, in boot camp at Fort Benning, and while attending advance officers’ training.

It looks like either Miller and his office have misrepresented his military career for many years or his old college, the California Assembly and the American Legion, among others, have embellished Miller’s military career on their own. Incidentally, Miller’s official website makes no reference at all to his military service. I have been told it did, until his office received questions about the subject a few years ago.

I sent spokeswoman Baker a few follow up questions last Friday. Here they are:

What were the medical reasons [leading to his discharge]? Can you disclose or add to that?

I have seen a number of places that refer to his service between 1967 and 1968…Why doesn’t your office correct this misinformation, since it seems you know it’s out there?

Has Congressman Miller ever claimed on his own official website or elsewhere that he served between 1967 and 1968? Where do you suppose all these websites got their information from?

Perhaps there were sound medical reasons why Miller left service, though that wouldn’t account for the misinformation about his length of service. Whatever the answers, Miller should offer some explanation.

If I hear back from his office, I’ll update this story.

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