It is perhaps to be expected that five years into the reign of a liberal Democrat president, after a decade of war, and with four years of increasing budget constraint, the veteran community would have a lot to be unhappy about. And they do. Let’s put the gripes into three buckets:
1. National security policy.
The bottom line is that it is hard for people who have risked their lives for the country to accept a policy of withdrawal from world leadership, particularly when the major decisions are made primarily from domestic political calculation in a spirit of “leading from behind.”
High among the policy concerns is the apparent indifference to negotiating a Status of Forces agreement with the Maliki government in Iraq which would have allowed a small residual American force to maintain the balance between the Shia and the Sunni. After the loss of 4500 Americans, we have seen the Sunni minority marginalized with the result that the jihadists have been able to return in force. The administration’s incompetence in dealing with Harmid Karzai is on the verge of obtaining the same result in Afghanistan where the rules of engagement were changed in 2009, roughly doubling the rate of American casualties.
The Benghazi scandal is a flash point for veterans with the President and his advisors, reflecting lack of concern for the fate of those on the front lines – first with the Secretary of State ignoring safety considerations for the consulate, then with the President refusing to authorize cross border operations to support those under attack, then with the patently phony “video” story and refusal to allow an objective investigation of what happened. Calls for John Boehner to convene a House Select Investigating Committee with subpoena power have gone unanswered – hopefully for timing considerations relative to the 2016 election.
2. The president’s social agenda
The military has often been a leading forum for societal change, famously with racial integration under presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. That is good, but it does not come without struggle. The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” affecting gays and lesbians in 2011 may be followed by a repeal of the remaining prohibition of transgender service members.
Women have also been playing a larger role in the military. Women were first accepted at the academies in 1976, the great majority of military occupations have been opened to women, and thousands have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the 1994 army order prohibiting women from combat operations was not overturned until 2013. The resulting sexual harassment epidemic has garnered most of the headlines, but there is also a “dumbing down” of the physical requirements for combat positions in which political correctness meets battlefield realities.
A combination of factors – outspoken opposition to Obama’s policies, personal ethical shortcomings, and professional underperformance – has led to an unusually large number of retirements among senior military leaders, from Stanley McChrystal in 2010, to David Petraeus in 2012, to at least nine senior generals in 2013. To many, this looks like a purge.
3. Implications of the budget
Many veterans are conflicted by the increasingly tight budgetary implications of the sequester, in which the administration’s quest for more social spending and tax increases has met a Republican House willing to accept increasing constraints on military spending, resulting in Army manpower reductions to pre-World War II levels, a major reduction in the Navy’s ships for near-coast combat, and a substantial reduction in Air Force tanker, U-2 spy, and close air support aircraft.
Of interest to current military members, signing and reenlistment bonuses have been reduced, pay increases have been limited to 1% for the current year, the military healthcare system has been cut by $3 billion, and tuition assistance has been frozen. A 1 % reduction in the Cost of Living adjustment for military pensions in the Ryan-Murray budget agreement, saving $6 billion over 10 years, has caused much resentment, but has little chance of reversal.
The more sensitive issue with veterans is the performance – or rather the lack of performance – in dealing with disability claims. Backlogged claims (over 125 days) increased from about 100,000 to over 500,000 in Obama’s first year in office, and have now settled at about 400,000 with an average completion time of about 300 days. One would hope to maintain integrity in the system, but for veterans in true need the delay is devastating.
So, what are veterans doing?
First, the 300,000 member Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) plays a leading role in personal support and advocacy as has been done by the traditional 1.5 million member Veterans of Foreign Wars , the 2.5 million member American Legion , and the 1.2 million member Disabled American Veterans for generations. The Wounded Warrior Project offers direct support to individual injured combatants.
For those more politically active, there is the Combat Veterans for Congress Political Action Committee, founded in 2009, which supports combat veterans who espouse fiscal conservatism, limited government, and strong national defense. The 34 currently endorsed candidates (6 Senate; 28 House) represent all services and a broad geography, and have been well vetted.
Any reader who wants to help can do so with a couple of clicks and a VISA card.
This week’s video is Congressman Trey Gowdy’s interrogation of former JCS Chair Admiral Mullen’s management of the Benghazi whitewash.
As a bonus, for an excellent recap of the potential 2016 Republican presidential nominees, see this article by Larry Sabato and Kyle Kondrik. The one thing to add is that if Hillary is the Democratic nominee Jeb Bush loses his largest negative.