Factcheck.org: A False Claim on Body Armor

The liberal group VoteVets.org is running an ad claiming that Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole "voted against giving our troops" life-saving body armor.

It's a slightly revised version of an ad the same group ran against four GOP senators in the 2006 election. The claim was false and nasty then, and it's false and nasty now.

The truth is that there was never a vote to deny body armor to troops, period. Neither of the two funding measures Vote Vets now cites in support of its claim mention body armor specifically, and neither could have resulted in the purchase of more body armor. At the time, the military was already buying every piece of body armor the economy could produce, and Pentagon officials said funding was sufficient.

VoteVets.org notes on its Web site that this is actually a new version of an ad it ran in several Senate races in 2006. Two years ago, we wrote that the ad was a "nasty tactic — accusing an opponent of playing with the lives of American troops." It made our "Whoppers of 2006" list. And two years later, our assessment has not changed.

Granato: This is modern body armor, made for today's weapon.

Life and Death
The ad is just as shocking and visually powerful as it was in its 2006 version. It shows the same footage of Pete Granato, an Army reservist who served in Iraq, firing several rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle into a pair of mannequins at a distance of about 50 feet. Granato then rips open the vests to show bullet holes in the abdomen of the figure wearing what he described as "the protection that we were given when we deployed to Iraq," but no bullet holes in the dummy protected by what he refers to as "modern body armor, made for today's weapons."

Granato then says, "The difference is life and death," adding, "Senator Elizabeth Dole voted against giving our troops this."

But that's false. There was never a vote that would have prevented troops from being equipped with the ceramic-plate vests to which Granato refers.

In the original ad, VoteVets.org based its false claim on one vote against a measure that made no mention of body armor, either in the amendment itself or in the Senate debate about it. It would have provided an extra $1 billion for purchase of unspecified "equipment."

This time, the ad also cites a second vote, which Dole cast against a Democratic amendment that would have shifted $322 million away from Iraqi reconstruction and applied it to "safety equipment," some of which could have gone to body armor. But that was not a vote against "giving our troops" body armor, which was already being shipped to Iraq. An appropriations bill – which Dole supported – contained an extra $300 million for possible use for body armor. The Pentagon said it had ample funds for body armor, and in fact had everyone in Iraq supplied with the vests within three months after that vote.

What Caused the Shortage
Neither of the votes the ad cites would have resulted in the purchase of more body armor than the Pentagon was buying. The reason is quite simply that the military had already – using existing funds – increased its orders for body armor to nine times higher than pre-war levels, exceeding the ability of manufacturers to meet demand. A report issued in 2005 by the Government Accountability Office concluded that the shortage resulted from the sudden surge in demand, causing shortages of Kevlar fabric and of a critical material used in ceramic plates.

GAO also faulted the Pentagon logistics system, which it says was trying to ship units so fast (sometimes directly from the factory to the troops) that it lost track of thousands of vests and plates. Money was not the problem; GAO cited no shortage of funds.

The Votes
The shortage developed well before either of Dole's two Senate votes, the first of which came as U.S. forces were a week away from entering Baghdad. By that time, the modern, ceramic-plate Interceptor vests were standard equipment for Army and Marine ground troops. But most support troops (such as truck drivers) and National Guard and Reserve troops were still equipped with older Kevlar vests, which could stop shrapnel and handgun bullets but not direct hits from high-powered rifle bullets.

* On April 2, 2003, Dole voted against an amendment to add just over $1 billion for unspecified "National Guard and Reserve Equipment." As we pointed out in 2006, the amendment made no mention of body armor, and no senator said a single word about body armor during debate on the amendment. In a press release a few days before the vote, the measure's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, said she was responding to reports of "a shortage of helmets, tents, bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests" for reserve troops then training for deployment, but she did not bring up body armor on the Senate floor. As we said in 2006, if any senator thought this was a vote about body armor, they were strangely silent at the time. Dole and other Republicans voted against the added funds, saying there were already ample funds available. And that turned out to be true.

* Dole also voted on Oct. 2, 2003, against a Democratic amendment to a controversial $87 billion supplemental spending bill. The amendment would have taken $322 million from reconstruction funds and applied the money to "safety equipment for United States forces." During debate, the amendment's sponsor, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, said it was prompted by reports that some troops were spending their own money for "hydration equipment, radios, weapon sights, combat helmets and individual body armor." But Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, chairman of the appropriations committee, said the committee's report on the bill already had earmarked $300 million of the $87 billion that could be used for body armor, and that if the amount were not enough the Army "could reprogram any money they need" from its $26 billion in regular appropriations.

Dole voted for the final version that was eventually signed into law, and which contained the $300 million earmarked for body armor. About three weeks later, at a House subcommittee hearing on Oct. 21, Lt. Gen. Richard A. Cody, an Army deputy chief of staff, was asked several times if the Army had enough money to cover the costs of buying Interceptor body armor for all soldiers. Cody repeatedly said "yes." That December, back orders for Interceptor vests and protective plates spiked to their highest levels, with over 300,000 vests on back order, according to the GAO report. The following month, the Army reported that all soldiers serving in Iraq had been issued body armor.

Footnote: One Small Step for Truth
The old ad claimed that troops were sent to Iraq with flak vests "left over from the Vietnam War," which was not true. The video showed an improved vest that wasn't available until the 1980s. The new ad re-dubs the voiceover to say the armor shown is "a vest – the protection given to us when we went to Iraq." The PASGT Kevlar vest shown is the type that some troops, especially reservists, were still using in the early months of the Iraq conflict. See our 2006 article for a full historical timeline of body armor to explain the evolution in gear.

Republished with permission from factcheck.org.

Government Accountability Office, "Defense Logistics: Actions Needed
to Improve the Availability of Critical Items during Current and Future Operations
," April 2005.

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