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TopVet: Max Cleland, Georgia Senator

Max Cleland

Max Cleland is Georgia’s senior senator.  A native Georgian, he joined the Army’s ROTC program while majoring in history at Stetson University. Upon graduation, he took a second lieutenant’s commission and went on to earn a master’s degree in American history from Emory University.  He has since been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by both institutions.

Lt. Cleland volunteered for duty in Vietnam in 1967.  In 1968, after having been promoted to captain, he was grievously wounded by a grenade explosion that cost him both legs and his right arm.  He spent the next year and a half recovering from his injuries in various Army and Veterans Administration hospitals.  He was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star for service in Vietnam.

In 1970, at the age of 28, Cleland was elected to the Georgia State Senate, beginning a 30-year career in public service.  As a senator, he authored the state law making public facilities in the state accessible to the disabled. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to lead the Veterans Administration, precursor to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  As the youngest ever VA Administrator and the first veteran of Vietnam to head the agency, Cleland instituted the exemplary "Vet Center Program" which for the first time offered psychological counseling to combat veterans, helping them heal the emotional wounds of war.  There are now more than 200 Vet Centers across the country offering support to combat and non-combat veterans as well as their families.

In 1982, Georgia voters elected Cleland Secretary of State, also the youngest in Georgia’s history.  In that position, Cleland fought for tougher campaign finance laws and cracked down on securities and telemarketing fraud.  In 1995, he implemented the National Voter Registration Act ("motor voter") in Georgia, which added almost one million new voters to the rolls.  In 1995, he resigned his to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Sam Nunn.  Despite being out-spent three to one, Cleland won the race and was sworn-in to the United States Senate in 1997.

Senator Cleland currently serves on four committees: Armed Services; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Governmental Affairs; and Small Business.  In addition to his work on committees, he is working to eliminate the punch card ballot nationwide, to pass a meaningful Patients’ Bill of Rights for the 161 million Americans covered by managed health care, and to improve America’s schools through character education and additional resources for teacher training and certification.

Cleland has received numerous awards in recognition of his service in the Senate, including the "Minute Man of the Year" award from the Reserve Officers Association for leadership in military and national security issues.  Among his other awards are the National Parks and Conservation Association’s "Friend of the National Parks" award, the 2000 "Community Health Super Hero" award by the National Association of Community Health Centers, and the Vanguard Award from the Non Commissioned Officers’ Association.

Senator Cleland is the author of two books, Going for the Max! 12 Principles for Living Life to the Fullest, and Strong at the Broken Places, which describes his experiences in Vietnam and his recovery from his wounds.

Photo Credit: http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/6UZbdiOjx5m/Chuck+Hagel+Hosts+National+POW+MIA+Recognition/dPfFkZ5ng26/Max+Cleland

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