Human Rights Leadership Profile

A Record of Service

According to veterans, Shays’ work has been instrumental in moving forward the cause of those affected by exposure to chemical or biological weapons.
      While Gulf War Illness has been the focus of his recent attention, Christopher Shays’ record of service to others goes back three decades, when he and his wife, Betsi, worked from 1968 to 1970 in the Peace Corps as teachers in the Fiji Islands.

      In 1985, while in his sixth of seven terms as a Connecticut state representative, he went to jail to protest corruption in the judicial system, an act of courage recognized by fellow legislators and constituents. A Hartford Superior Court judge sentenced Shays to 10 days’ imprisonment for contempt of court after he refused to step down from the witness stand until being allowed to present testimony against an attorney in a disciplinary matter.

      Although intervention by the State Attorney General and another Superior Court judge secured his release on the third day, he was adamant about his position, affirming that he “would do nothing different” if placed again in the same circumstances. “I have to do what I have to do,” he said, condemning the state’s system for disciplining judges and attorneys as “a farce.”

      A U.S. congressman since 1987, the subcommittee he now chairs has oversight regarding the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor and Education. Among other issues, he has taken an important role in battling fraud and abuse in nursing homes and elsewhere under the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

      On November 21 and 22, 1988, he helped lead a 24-hour vigil in the Capitol Rotunda to honor the founder of the Peace Corps, John F. Kennedy. “President Kennedy may have passed away 25 years ago, but he is alive and well in the Peace Corps,” he said to the crowd. “It was not an accident that his picture hung on the walls of the simplest people in Third World dwellings.”

      And it is no accident that Christopher Shays is remembered in the hearts of veterans, wounded by an invisible enemy, who served in Desert Storm.

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