This story was written by Shawn Gude, The Daily Iowan
Seated in a small, second-floor room in the Communications Center, three University of Iowa Veterans Association members took turns tearing apart their fellow veteran: Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
"There's a difference between the public John McCain who's a POW and the John McCain who votes consistently against veterans' benefits," said sophomore Drew Hjelm, who supports Libertarian candidate Bob Barr. "I don't see why that's not a big talking point for [Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's] camp. John McCain is just way off-base."
"I think five years as a POW earns you a lot of things most people don't deserve - but the presidency is not one of them," added senior Scott Lyon, who is also leaning toward Barr.
It was a seemingly unusual scene. But similar anti-McCain sentiments were echoed in a congressional report card released last week by the nonpartisan Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
On "issues facing new veterans" the organization gave McCain a "D" and Obama a "B."
But veterans across the country lean toward McCain, according to an August Gallup poll that showed the Arizona senator leading Obama among military veterans by 22 points.
Still, at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, some veterans disagreed with the Afghanistan veterans' report card.
"I think McCain is more in favor of veterans than Obama," said Ronald Bream, who served in Berlin from 1960-1962. "He's a veteran."
Another UI Veterans Association member said veterans empathize with other veterans.
"I think it takes a veteran to understand another veteran," said Stephanie Linn, adding that Obama's plan for troop withdrawal in Iraq is "logistically impossible. There's so much stuff and so many things that we go through that the normal public - other than family members - don't understand."
She argued that Obama's favorable grade is more a reflection of political strategy than pro-veteran conviction.
"I honestly don't see him doing anything for veterans if he became president," she said.
Although Bream criticized McCain for opposing the Post-9/11 GI Bill earlier this year - which has increased education benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans - he praised McCain for continually "reaching out" to veterans. Obama supported the bill.
"McCain does more for veterans than Obama has ever done," said Bream, an undecided voter.
Aaron Schlumbohm, a member of the UI Veterans Association and an Obama backer, admitted he was surprised by McCain's low evaluation "because I bought into the myth, the McCain myth."
But Ben Hayden, state captain of the Vets for Freedom - which gave McCain an "A-" and Obama an "F" in its 2007 report card - disputed that "myth."
Hayden praised McCain for his support for the Iraq war, contending the issue is paramount for veterans.
"That would take precedence over everything else," said Hayden, a McCain supporter.
But in the end, Schlumbohm said, it's a matter of trust.
"There's not too much difference between the two of them as far as what they say, but Obama has a better voting record on veterans' issues than McCain," Schlumbohm said.
"It's just a matter of whom you believe."