NORFOLK, Va. — Slamming President Barack Obama and evoking nostalgia for Ronald Reagan, a trio of speakers urged military veterans Friday night to get politically active and help steer America back onto a more conservative path.
The event was the kickoff of a 10-city "Defend Freedom Summer Tour" organized by Concerned Veterans for America, based in Arlington. On its website, the group says it advocates policies that advance free markets, limited government and fiscal restraint.
Pete Hegseth, the group's CEO and a Fox News contributor, ticked off what he called a series of scandals that have tainted the Obama administration, including the substandard care at Veterans Affairs health centers.
"When you have a bureaucracy more concerned about protecting leaders who are covering up deaths of veterans waiting on secret lists - that's more important than providing timely care - you know you have a government and a country whose priorities are off the rails," Hegseth told an enthusiastic audience of about 100, many of them veterans, at the Granby Theater.
He also railed against Obama's health care law, the "cover-up" of the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and the targeting of conservative organizations by the Internal Revenue Service.
Sean Parnell, a retired Army Ranger who wrote a book about his combat experience in Afghanistan, decried cuts in benefits and rising health care costs that veterans have faced since 2009.
"Those who fight and bleed for the United States of America on foreign battlefields should not have to come home and fight and bleed for their benefits," he said.
The event included a musical performance by Madison Rising, described as "America's most patriotic rock band."
Another speaker was Karen Vaughn, mother of Aaron Vaughn, a Virginia Beach-based Navy SEAL who was killed when a U.S. transport helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan in 2011.
Thirty American military members and eight Afghan troops died in that assault, the deadliest on U.S. forces in the Afghanistan War.
"We raised Aaron in the '80s when America was strong," Vaughn said. "My son didn't die so that big government and bloated bureaucracies could destroy small-business men and women with endless red tape, taxation and regulations. He did not die so that America could sell its soul to other countries with a gross national debt....
"We love our country, and we want it back."
Vaughn, her husband, Billy, and the parents of three other servicemen killed in the 2011 attack sued Vice President Joe Biden and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last year, alleging that they prompted the assault by divulging the SEALs' role in killing Osama bin Laden three months earlier.
The lawsuit was dismissed in December.