'The federal government created a hoax'

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Was there ever truly the promise of free, lifetime health care as many veterans remember?There absolutely was, said Mark Olanoff, legislative director of The Retired Enlisted Association.

While there is no clear information of when the promise entered military recruiters' language, there is anecdotal evidence it was made to scores of enlisted men and women.

It was common to promise health-care benefits, Olanoff said. Such offers may not have been written, but they were a verbal contract, he said.

``Sen. John Warner, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stood on the floor of the Senate and said he was promised free health care, too,'' Olanoff said.

``He was on the record.''

As late as 1991, Army recruiting brochures spoke of ``superb'' health care while in the Army and ``the rest of your life if you serve a minimum of 20 years...''There appears to be no mention of space or staff availability or income limits.

Although Olanoff does not have an original brochure _ he believes all remaining copies to have been deliberately destroyed _ he has a copy of it, the director said. ``That is a legitimate document. The government doesn't want us to have it.''He understands why recruiters were inclined to give guarantees, he said. He frequently hears from veterans who say if they knew then what they know now, they would have never stayed in the service.

``The federal government's answer to recruiter promises is that they had no authority to make them,'' Olanoff said. ``That is a horrible answer. The federal government created a hoax.''

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