Combat Veteran’s Run for Office

A More Important Bathroom Conversation
May 3, 2016
Fighting to be Understood: Living with ‘Invisible Disabilties’
May 17, 2016

A military veteran from Jupiter, FL by the name of Brian Mast is running for the Republican nomination in the House district of southeastern Florida. One thing that people will always notice about Brian is that he is always in shorts. He wears shorts with T­shirts, polo shirts, and even with a coat and tie. But these questions ­ which have much more to do with the fact that Brian has two prosthetic legs, the most eye catching mark of his military service in Afghanistan, than his sense of style ­ did not start until he began his run for Congress.

Mast embraces his identity as a veteran. He does so proudly through images of himself on his campaign website where he is draped in Army gear, reading the names on the National September 11 Memorial, and as he runs down a suburban street in the Florida sun with the main point of focus being his prosthetic legs.

But when Mast announced his endorsement of Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa and also a combat veteran, a few people began to express their skepticism: Does Mr. Mast have to wear shorts to accommodate his prosthetics?

“Or is he purposely using his disability for his campaign?” the commenter said. “What I know about him, I like him, but this bothers me.”

In a year when many people are throwing political correctness out the door, military valor, often an almost unassailable political credential, is being scrutinized with the same frankness and, in some cases, even scorn as other aspects of a candidate’s biography.

This comes after presidential hopeful Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, belittled Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in July. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Mr. Mast doesn’t mind the questions about his legs if they are asked in the right spirit, he said on a sunny afternoon as he sat overlooking numerous golf courses on Florida’s Treasure Coast. His clubs resting nearby, he had just finished playing in a tournament to benefit a veteran’s organization.

He explains why he wears shorts with the rapid cadence of someone who has recited this many, many times: His prosthetics have sharp edges that tear his pants when he falls ­ a daily occurrence, but “I just suck it up,” he said ­ and he cannot bend his feet.

Many other veterans in Brian Mast’s district stand behind him regardless of his choice of attire. Bill White, a veteran of the Navy said that he appreciated the commitment veterans had demonstrated to their country, a willingness to make sacrifices that spoke volumes about them. “If I don’t know either candidate that was running for Congress, the veteran would get my vote,” he said.

It’s clear that some do have a problem with the way that Mr. Mast has been running his campaign, but at the same time, he does seem to have plenty of support from the veterans community. As for his shorts, his answer is valid and one that surely several others have experienced at some point. More and more wounded veterans are paving the way for disabled people to make a place for themselves in government and hopefully the new surge of disabled politicians and public servants can help address the long ignored issues facing the disabled community.