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Prior to the first presidential debate on October 2, I wondered if the candidates would devote any time to addressing veterans’ issues in their first meeting, which focused on domestic policy. The answer: not in the least.
Our friends at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America noticed the glaring omission, asking, “If care and support for the 20 million veterans in America is not a domestic policy issue, what is?” We couldn’t agree more. Last week’s vice presidential debate was no better, where veterans were mentioned only in passing.
Tonight President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney will face off at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. for their second of three debates. With a fresh format for this meeting—the candidates will take questions in a “town hall” format—it may create an opportunity for veterans’ issues to finally be addressed.
On the domestic front, here are four key issues I’ve written about that we’d like to see the candidates tackle:
- Sequestration: We’re now less than three months away from steep budget cuts under “sequestration” that will take a huge bite out of our nation’s defense spending—about $500 billion over the next decade. Most experts agree that while spending restraint is needed, these indiscriminate cuts aren’t the way to do it, because they’ll have a devastating effect on national security. How will the candidates’ work on a bipartisan basis to address the looming “fiscal cliff” and protect our force readiness?
- Veterans’ unemployment: At 9.7 percent, unemployment among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is almost two points higher than for the general population. And with more service members returning home as the U.S. reduces its presence in the Middle East, that high jobless rate is likely to persist. How do the candidates plan to build a real pro-growth agenda that put veterans and all Americans back to work?
- VA Dysfunction: We’ve chronicled how dysfunction at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is leading to rampant waste and poor service for our veterans. It’s time for a change. How will the candidates bring needed reform to the VA to protect taxpayer dollars and to ensure that our veterans get the support they’ve earned through their service?
- Military voting: Requests for absentee ballots by military voters will hit a historic low in 2012 (and they were nothing to brag about in 2010). What do the candidates think about the disenfranchisement of our service members around the world, and how will they turn that disturbing trend around in time for the next mid-term and presidential elections?
Obviously, the candidates can’t deal with all those issues in detail in a 90-minute debate. But surely in a town hall format, we’ll get at least one question that will require the candidates to address issues important to the veterans’ community.
As always, the media focus this close to an election will be almost entirely on matters of style, rather than substance, as pundits and partisans fall over one another to rate the candidates’ zingers, body language and vaguely defined “ability to connect.” This “What to Watch For” piece at the Huffington Post is a perfect example—all the focus is on style and setting, rather than substance.
But informed voters will look beyond those frills to get at the meat of the debate. Maybe tonight we’ll get the clear talk about the issues that Americans want and deserve. Follow Concerned Veterans for America on Twitter for our thoughts tonight as the debate unfolds.