On the day of the first presidential debate between Romney and Obama, which I’ll be live-blogging tonight, Bill Briggs published a very interesting piece on Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA) and how that organization feels that veterans have been largely ignored in the presidential campaign so far. This of course fits nicely into on-going narratives about Romney having forgotten to mention veterans in his acceptance speech the final night of the Republican National Convention this year.
Since Briggs’ main journalistic experience seems to be with sports reporting, really weird filler stories, and religious news specific to the Catholic Church, I’ll forgive him for a little naïvité when it comes to covering political issues. The piece he wrote is very boilerplate coverage – there’s a group and the head of it says a certain thing, and here’s what that certain thing means. It’s “non-partisan” in the sense that if it disparages politicians it does so lightly and with a clear appeal to both major parties to correct their actions. Briggs, for instance writes,
“How have Romney and Obama fared — in the eyes of veterans — in their attention to or work on those five points? ‘The reality is that neither one has been judged on them yet because these issues really haven’t been a focal point in the campaign,’ [said the founder and leader of the IAVA Paul Rieckhoff] ‘The reality is that neither one has been judged on them yet because these issues really haven’t been a focal point in the campaign’“
Clearly there hasn’t been enough discussion about the issues facing veterans, and what little there has been is so very peripheral or insubstantial. Briggs includes another quote from Rieckhoff in the piece: “We get a lot of ceremony. But let’s get down to specifics.” He and his organization just want to see some discussion about their issues. The five specifics he wants to see most seem rather reasonable: addressing veterans needs for stable employment, providing educational benefits as promised, improving mental health provisions to reduce the suicide rate among veterans and service members, fixing the inefficiencies in the Veterans’ Benefits Administration, and better addressing women’s needs in veteran’s hospitals and other facilities. Why hasn’t either major candidate or his campaign spoken out about these issues?
As has been said before and will be probably long be remembered, Romney has consistently failed to address veterans’ needs. On the issue of treating the military and service members as props, well, there’s something to be said about the Romney campaign. This is of course a risky strategy with other members of the party having anonymously blocked cost of living adjustments to veterans’ benefits. Other than those issues, there’s not much than can be discussed though, as the Republican campaign simply hasn’t mentioned veterans very much.
As for the Democrats – they’ve clearly done very little as well. Sure, the platform committee invited Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) to criticize their past programs and testify about how they could address veterans’ needs better or more directly. Admittedly, Dr. Jill Biden and her son Beau Biden spoke at the extremely well-attended Military Families’ and Veterans’ Caucus at the Democratic National Convention this year. I guess we have to admit that Dr. Biden and Michelle Obama have been doing a lot of work on improving assistance to veterans and their families for years now, with demonstrable victories for veterans’ access to mental health care and employment opportunities. What’s more, Dr. Biden spoke at the convention this year about her experience as a member of a military family and her commitment to other such families, but only while addressing other issues, including her experience as a teacher, her family’s religious beliefs, and her family’s expectation of equal rights for women. As for Obama, he only mentioned veterans and our national duty to provide them with the medical care and economic assistance that they need for a portion of his acceptance speech. Clearly, Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans of using veterans as props and refusing to substantively address their policy concerns.
To show just how out of touch this sort of a statement or uncritical reporting of such a statement is – the Democrats actually had the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs and service member, General Eric Shinseki speak on the Obama administration’s work towards improving access to health and financial benefits for thousands of veterans, including specific attention to the mental health issues and risk of homelessness that many veterans face. The convention likewise set aside time for this video:
To refuse to address the mountain of evidence that the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration are working hard to address the specific needs of veterans and their families is reveal one’s own partisanship. If the IAVA had criticized the administration’s approach towards these issues, making the obvious counter-argument that their emphasis on mental health issues comes at the cost of working on the other problems he specifically raised – then he would have made a reasonable argument, grounded in the objective proof of the Obama campaign directly addressing veterans. Until he does that instead of arguing against existing evidence, all while Bill Briggs prints without question his claims of non-partisan affiliation, he isn’t critiquing the Obama administration or campaign as either actually exists.