Lawmakers are usually quick to tout their own military service and most wouldn’t dream of fabricating it. But Eighth District DFL Representative Rick Nolan appears to have once again gone where few dare to tread.
According to the Mesabi Daily News, Nolan told those attending a Veterans’ Round Table in Hibbing on July 2, 2014, that he previously served in the U.S. Army Reserve. “[Nolan] said even though he is not a military veteran, he is proud of having been an Army reservist...”
But there’s no record that Nolan ever was an Army Reservist. He served two terms in the Minnesota Legislature as well as three previous terms in Congress, but this forum in Hibbing is the only documented claim of Nolan’s military service made over the course of a career in public service that began in 1968.
There’s no record of Nolan with the U.S. Army Manpower and Reserve Affairs, or with the National Archives and Records Administration, or with the Department of Veteran Affairs. There is no reference to him serving in the military in the Minnesota Legislative Manuals, nor in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, nor in his campaign materials for the Sixth District Congress from 1972-78, nor for the Eighth District in 2012-16.
Nor was Nolan’s voting record particularly supportive of Vietnam veterans. During his first stint in Congress, he voted to give Vietnam draft deserters automatic entitlement to veteran benefits, and for financial assistance and reparations to Vietnam.
Meanwhile, he missed votes to establish a day of recognition for prisoners of war and those missing in action, and for UN assistance to determine the fate of missing servicemen in southeast Asia.
Nolan repeatedly voted to cut funding for the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, against special pay and incentives for military health care professionals, against forgiving student loans for military service, against retaining civil service veteran’s preference standards. He even voted against the Veteran’s Readjustment Assistance Amendments of 1975.
Among the 699 roll call votes Nolan missed were those affecting veterans’ and survivors’ pensions, disability benefits, adapted housing benefits, counseling services and rehabilitation and education.
The story reporting his claim of service ran three times without correction (Mesabi Daily News July 2, Hibbing Daily Tribune July 3, and Grand Rapids Herald-Review July 7). Nolan endorsed its accuracy by posting the Hibbing article in its entirety on his congressional website and linking to it on social media.
Funding for the military is done primarily through military construction appropriations and Department of Defense (DoD) appropriations. Separate authorization bills are the checkbooks that make money accessible.
Military construction appropriations fund facilities and infrastructure needed to train, house and equip personnel at military installations, including construction, maintenance, expansion and rehabilitation of medical facilities, unaccompanied housing and family housing. Salaries, clothing allowance, etc. for personnel, retiree benefits, commissary and the extensive military healthcare system are funded through DoD appropriations. Funding for the Veterans Administration was once contained in the appropriations bill for Department of Housing and Urban Development, but is now combined with the appropriation for military construction.
Between 1975-80, Nolan either voted against or did not vote on every military construction or DoD appropriation or authorization bill that came before Congress. In 2013, he again voted against both the DoD and military appropriations bills.
Then a firestorm of criticism enveloped Nolan for voting against the Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Blistering television ads pounded him for voting against veterans and being soft on defense.
Active and retired military form a powerful voting bloc in the Eighth District that he can ill afford to lose in a tight race for re-election, so in 2014, Nolan was careful to vote for both the DoD and military construction appropriations and then deployed his favorite vehicle for PR—a private forum for veterans at which he made the claim to have served in the Reserves.
Nolan’s congressional office did not respond to requests for comment.
A member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Shelly Mategko is an award-winning journalist.