Romney /Ryan and America’s veterans: Does support go both ways?

A Gallup poll indicates that America’s male veterans lean towards the Romney/Ryan ticket at a 58% to 34% margin. The reasons are uncertain, but previous Gallup polls suggest that a disproportionate number of males entering the service are conservative to begin with, and while in the military, men are socialized toward a conservative viewpoint. This is an interesting development, given that neither candidate has a military background, for the first time since World War II. Does the fact that veterans support Romney/Ryan mean that they can expect support in return, if the GOP presidential candidates are elected?

 Who’s advising Romney/Ryan on veterans’ issues?

The policies that Romney/Ryan would support in office do not seem to be shaping up well for veterans, if the advisers they’ve chosen so far are any indication. James Nicholson was G. W. Bush’s secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), at least until he left the position under a cloud. Now Nicholson and several of his former compatriots are advisers to the Romney/Ryan campaign. Nicholson was described by as the VA’s equivalent of “heckuva job Brownie” (Michael Brown of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina) for his disastrous handling of the department. At the time, Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated that Nicholson “left the VA worse off than he found it.” Scandals under his tenure included disgraceful treatment of veterans at Walter Reed Hospital and a huge loss of two million veterans’ private data through misplacement of electronic records. It brings up the question of what advice the Romney/Ryan campaign is hoping for from an “expert” of this caliber.

Veterans for Common Sense Executive Director Patrick Bellon has stated, “A Romney presidency would be a disaster for veterans, as evidenced by whom he’s chosen to advise him.” Bellon points out that this selection indicates that Romney has learned little to nothing from mistakes made by his predecessors. Nicholson encouraged cuts in staffing at a time when veterans were returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in record numbers. Paul Reickhoff , Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has also criticized Nicholson’s handling of the VA at the time of his resignation.

What’s in the Romney/Ryan  budget for vets?

When the GOP released their version of the budget, it was noted by Jon Stoltz of that it did not even mention the word veteran. This budget proposal calls for freezes to many crucial programs, including spending for veterans, at a time when the numbers and severity of need are increasing. Already 45,000 veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with wounds that require continuing attention from the VA. The budget endorsed by Congressman Ryan would spend 13% less on veterans needs than would the Obama Administration’s proposal. The savings from the GOP/Ryan spending cuts would not have lowered the deficit, but would have provided still more tax cuts for those in the upper income brackets.

In the past, Governor Romney has had some interesting thoughts on how to fix problems with the VA healthcare system. One suggestion that Romney made was a voucher system that would privatize the VA healthcare system. The VFW, one of the more conservative veterans groups, quickly responded that this idea “is a non-starter.” Governor Romney quickly backtracked when it became clear that very few veterans would support such a move.

Making it harder for vets to vote

A recent move by the GOP in Ohio that drew support from the Romney/Ryan campaign stands to damage the ability of that state’s veterans to vote. Early voting has long allowed the elderly and disabled veterans, as well as those without easy access to the polls to cast votes. The Ohio GOP has decided to do all it can to end early voting, a move which could impact up to 900,000 veterans in the state. The Romney/Ryan campaign points to an exception for servicemen overseas, but this would not help those who rely on early voting and are veterans rather than active duty. Early voting in Ohio accounted for a third of all ballots cast in the 2008 election, meaning the program is at least popular, and most likely crucial to many in the state.

 The Obama record on veterans

Veterans might ask if President Obama has done any better for them. Since his election, he has signed into law several tax credits to benefit America’s veterans. The Returning Heroes tax credit provide $5,600 for hiring unemployed veterans. The Wounded Warriors tax credit gives up to $9,600 for hiring a disabled veteran. There is also the proposed Veterans Job Corps ConservationAct, which would put up to 20,000 veterans back to work. The current administration has been working hard to add more healthcare fessional and mental health professionals to deal with the increasing workload of the VA. The Obama administration also claims credit for fighting to preserve benefits and strengthen educational benefits.

Although veterans may support the Romney/Ryan ticket, according to recent polls, it would appear that America’s former vets would do better with the Obama/Biden ticket. Recent developments indicate that the Romney campaign is willing to do whatever it takes to hold onto their edge with male veterans. A “birther” and Navy seal has been chosen to lead a campaign to “swift boat” President Obama for claiming any credit in the takedown of Osama Bin Laden. Time will tell if these blatant propaganda moves will be successful or not.

Mike Davis is a disabled veteran and member of Veterans For Peace.