Following the publication of a report in The Atlantic that President Donald Trump disparaged military service members, the campaign of Joe Biden has wasted no time in framing the former vice president as the stronger candidate on veterans’ issues.
“At a time when we have a person in the White House who sadly is degrading our generals … who really does not give that due regard and respect to those who wear the uniform, it just, it really bothers me,” Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia said during a Sept. 15 virtual roundtable discussion with Colorado veterans, an event that was promoted by the Biden campaign and livestreamed by the Colorado Democratic Party.
While military service members are often viewed as trending toward conservative, that could be changing. An August poll conducted by Military Times and Syracuse University found that out of 1,018 active-duty troops surveyed, nearly half of respondents viewed Trump unfavorably, compared to about 38% who had a favorable view. The poll’s margin of error was 2%.
“Joe Biden is a man of character and integrity, and this is an election about character and integrity,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado, said during the discussion. “This is an election about who will tell the truth, who will keep his oath — who will do what’s in the best interests of the country, not his own personal self-interests, like Donald Trump.”
Crow served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division after the 9/11 attacks and earned the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq, according to his campaign website. He served two additional tours in Afghanistan as part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force.
The Biden camp seeks to portray Trump as incapable of understanding the meaning of service and sacrifice for one’s country.
“Based on reports and interviews, President Trump has proven he’s unfit to hold the office of president time and again, but nowhere are his faults more glaring and more offensive to me … than when it comes to the denigration of our veterans, service members, wounded warriors, the fallen,” Biden said at a speech in Tampa, Florida, on Sept. 15.
In that same speech, Biden mixed up Iraq with Iran, which the Trump campaign promptly pointed out. But gaffe or no gaffe, Biden has a strong personal connection to veterans and military service members: his son, Beau Biden, was a major in the Army National Guard who deployed to Iraq in 2009.
Joe Biden has said he believes his son’s fatal brain cancer could have been caused by exposure to burn pits in Iraq and in Kosovo, where he worked as a civilian after the 1999 war in that country, Military Times reported in 2018.
Part of Biden’s platform for veterans includes expanding the list of presumptive disability benefits for veterans to include Veterans Affairs compensation for traumatic brain injuries and exposure to burn pits or other environmental toxins.
“President Biden will also increase access to VA care beyond the 5-year eligibility window for combat veterans, as conditions related to toxic exposure may take many years to manifest,” his campaign website says.
Biggest service member pay raise since 2010
Colorado Newsline reached out to the office of U.S. Rep Doug Lamborn, a Republican whose district includes Colorado Springs, plus Colorado General Assembly Republicans and the Trump campaign for comment on this article. No response had been received by the time of publication.
However, Trump’s campaign website for veterans touts legislation he signed that benefited former service members and their families.
The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 established a new office within the Veterans Affairs department to investigate misconduct among employees and protect whistleblowers. Trump’s website points out that through 2018, “more than 4,300 Veterans Affairs employees were removed, demoted, or suspended as a result.” (A 2019 report found that legislation had “created an office culture that was sometimes alienating to the very individuals it was meant to protect.”)
Trump also approved what was at the time the biggest military budget in history in 2018. The National Defense Authorization Act that year provided nearly $700 billion for military funding and gave service members a 2.4% pay raise, the biggest since 2010. That figure is “mandated as the standard pay raise under federal law,” Military Times reported.
Recently, the Trump administration has also come under fire for what Democrats say was a slow response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The president was slow to encourage mask-wearing as an effective way to reduce virus transmission, and some people have blamed the politicization of masks on the president.
Trump’s attitude could lead young conservatives in the military to not take the pandemic seriously enough, said Alex Ferencz, a Marine Corps veteran who spoke during the virtual roundtable.
“(Trump) not taking the mask situation seriously and him making somehow a virus that cares not about politics, making it political and making it partisan, is impacting these young folks (in the military) and having them not take it seriously either,” Ferencz said. “It’s not like the folks that are active duty right now are older folks.”
In the Marine Corps, the average age of active-duty enlisted members was 24 in 2018, according to the Department of Defense. The average age for officers was 33.
State Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat whose son was killed in a 2012 shooting at an Aurora movie theater, said he’d like to see the Biden administration focus on suicide prevention efforts for veterans.
“Absolutely we as veterans and the military, we have to talk about the suicide problem we have in our military,” Sullivan, who served in the Air Force, said during the virtual roundtable. “We know that that is happening 20 to 22 times a day in the United States, that a veteran is taking their own life.”
Of Biden, Sullivan said: “I can’t do enough to support him and see that he becomes the next president and commander-in-chief of our military services.”