On Wednesday night 11 candidates took center stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in the second GOP debate, hoping to add the title of Commander in Chief to their resumes. The occasion was a perfect opportunity for them to demonstrate why they are worthy to become leader of the world’s most powerful military force, and to pay more than lip service to the new greatest generation of returning service men and women. Unfortunately, after years of VA collapse and failed leadership, the 2.8 million service members who answered the call to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan were again disappointed.
In the first GOP debate, veterans were mentioned only two times and discussed for a total of 20 seconds. Wednesday night’s debate saw little improvement, and few specific policies outlined. After more than a decade of war, we deserve more than throw-away lines and empty rhetoric. Of the 11 candidates participating in the debate, only four have published a policy platform on their official campaign website that even acknowledges veterans. This is unacceptable. Especially since not a single one of them has served in uniform.
Any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who is serious about becoming President must commit themselves to real support of our nation’s veterans. Platitudes are not enough. The 22 million American veterans from all wars deserve clear, specific policy plans. It’s easy to say “I’ll clean up the VA!,” but we want to see specifics about how each candidate plans to do it.
Our organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is, and always has been, a fiercely non-partisan organization. We believe that veterans issues are everyone’s, and too important to be politicized or to have our voice hijacked by fake veterans groups—like in the case of Mr. Trump this week. While we do not endorse candidates, we do look to help educate our members as well as the general public on which candidates have prioritized our vets and their families. And, we will always look to hold candidates accountable for what they are saying, and what they don’t say.
Veterans deserve answers from these Presidential hopefuls of how they will address the real challenges veterans face. They deserve to have answers to question like:
· How would you stop the outrageous rate of 22 veterans per day dying from suicide?
· How would you have reacted to the VA scandal that emerged in Phoenix last year?
· Would you privatize the VA?
· How specifically would you provide better care to our women veterans?
· Why did you never serve in the military?
· What is your reaction to the historic recent news of two women graduating from Army Ranger school for the first time?
IAVA encourages candidates toward a robust debate around these and other pressing issues as well as laying out complete policy agendas to address and support members of the military and their families.
In the 12 years since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, there have been a lot of politicians saying they support our troops and our vets. Now is the time for these would-be Presidents to show how they would do it.
This piece was originally published in The Hill.