Stuart F. Feldman, 73

Stuart F. Feldman, lawyer and lobbyist who advocated for veterans, dies at 73

Stuart F. Feldman
Stuart F. Feldman "single-handedly has won billions of dollars for veterans programs," said a 1977 Fortune magazine article. (Family Photo)
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By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stuart F. Feldman, 73, a lawyer and lobbyist who was a driving force in the 1960s and '70s for recognizing the service and sacrifice of Vietnam War veterans with improved health care, job-training and educational opportunities, died July 11 of pneumonia at a hospital in Philadelphia.

In his 40-year career in Washington, Mr. Feldman held positions as a lawyer in the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations before becoming a lobbyist for the U.S. Conference of Mayors in the early 1970s. Working both inside and outside the government, he became one of the era's most effective veterans' advocates. A slight and modest man, he was also well connected in Congress and skilled in media relations.

"Feldman single-handedly has won billions of dollars for veterans programs," said a 1977 Fortune magazine article, which called his work an inspiring example of "what one lobbyist can accomplish."

Many of the men returning from Vietnam were minorities, had grown up in working-class families or dropped out of high school. In the late 1960s, hundreds of thousands of them were unemployed.

Mr. Feldman said he believed that providing them with adequate services to aid the transition to civilian life -- especially access to higher education -- was not only the moral thing to do but could address the country's racial segregation and growing disparity between rich and poor.

His efforts were key to passing amendments to the G.I. Bill that raised education benefits from $100 per month to more than $300 per month. He also helped establish more than 1,000 veterans' counseling centers at colleges across the country, as well as new education and job training programs in at least 10 cities. He secured millions of dollars to pay bonuses to colleges for every veteran they enrolled and helped set up public job programs for veterans.

Once, when Mr. Feldman arrived at the Capitol to testify yet again before the House Veterans' Affairs committee -- according to the 2001 book "Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement" by Gerald Nicosia -- a staffer groaned, "The last time you were here, you cost us a billion dollars."

"Actually," Mr. Feldman said, "it was several billion."

In 1970, he helped conceive of and then coordinated "Hope for Education," in which a concerted effort was made to register troops for G.I. Bill benefits during comedian Bob Hope's annual Christmas visit overseas. An estimated 50,000 signed up.

In 1978, Mr. Feldman and Robert Muller, a veteran who had been paralyzed in Vietnam, co-founded the organization that became Vietnam Veterans of America, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to Vietnam veterans and their families.

Mr. Feldman also was successful in bringing the special plight of returning service members to the attention of Washington Post editorial board editor Philip Geyelin and columnist Colman McCarthy. Geyelin, McCarthy and others in The Post's opinion pages wrote more than 30 columns and editorials pushing the government to take better care of returning troops.

"For Stuart Feldman, the people who really scorned Vietnam veterans were not the occasional anti-war protesters, but members of Congress who sent them to war and then willfully looked away when they came home in desperate need of health care and education," McCarthy said Wednesday. "His advocacy was of the rarest kind in Washington: relentless, informed and humane. If there were a medal of honor for valor in defending the rights of veterans, Stu Feldman would surely have earned one."

Stuart Franklin Feldman was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 20, 1937. He was a 1958 economics graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, from which he also received a law degree in 1961. His survivors include a brother.

Mr. Feldman came to Washington to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission and later worked for the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Department of Transportation.

In 1978, he wrote an op-ed article in The Post about the need to serve veterans well upon their return, whatever one's feelings about the war in which they had fought. Several weeks later, Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.) spoke about the essay on the floor of the House of Representatives. He praised Mr. Feldman's message. "Unless we come to terms with Vietnam," Bonior said, "its veterans may very well be the ultimate victims of that war."

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Feldman worked as a legislative consultant to the House Rules Committee chairman and as an independent lawyer practicing in Washington and Philadelphia. His passion during those years was establishing a museum in Philadelphia to educate visitors about the history and ideas of the U.S. Constitution.

The National Constitution Center opened in 2003, two blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Mr. Feldman, who helped secure millions of dollars in congressional appropriations for the museum, was a member of its board for 17 years.

Since the 1980s, he also was an enduring voice in support of establishing a memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall in Washington. In a 1989 Post op-ed, Mr. Feldman proposed that the words of King's "I Have a Dream" speech be carved in stone at the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial. Ten years later, the National Capital Planning Commission voted instead to authorize a memorial site on the northwest shore of the Tidal Basin, where a 28-foot statue of the civil rights leader will be erected in the coming year.

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