The Times-Tribune

Trump, Dem contenders tout their efforts to boost veterans

Both sides highlight their policy difference­s

- BY HOPE YEN AND HUNTER WOODALL

ROCHESTER, N.H. — On Veterans Day, President Donald Trump paid tribute to America’s troops at a New York City parade as top 2020 Democratic candidates outlined their plans for the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as naming a woman to run the agency for the first time.

The Democratic proposals, coming two days before historic impeachmen­t hearings, sought to highlight policy difference­s with the embattled president before a key bloc of voters.

“The president has let veterans down,” said Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

A former Navy intelligen­ce officer, Buttigieg said female veterans and service members in particular have been neglected, including on concerns about sexual harassment and women’s health. Women are the military’s fastest-growing subgroup.

“I think leadership plays a huge role so absolutely I’d seek to name a woman to lead VA,” he said.

Trump was the first sitting president to attend New York’s veterans parade, viewing veterans as standing among his biggest supporters. Past presidents have typically spent Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery for a ceremonial wreath laying.

Trump praised the strength of the U.S. military and the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-baghdadi, saying the nation’s veterans “risked everything for us. Now it is our duty to serve and protect them every single day of our lives.”

More than 100 protesters booed, some holding black balloons that read “support our troops, impeach.” In a liberal city where Trump is deeply unpopular in spite of his roots there, a nearby building’s soaring windows were adorned with signs reading “IMPEACH” and “CONVICT.”

Veterans overall have strongly backed Trump throughout his presidency, though views vary widely by party, gender and age, according to AP Votecast, a survey of 2018 midterm voters. In particular, younger veterans and women generally were more skeptical of Trump, who received multiple draft deferments to avoid going to Vietnam.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose late son Beau spent a year in Iraq with the Army, stressed that he would “restore trust” in VA.

Taking aim at Trump’s stalled progress in reducing suicide among veterans,

Biden pledged to hire more VA staff to cut down office wait times for vets at risk of suicide to zero as well as continuing the efforts of the Obama-biden administra­tion to stem homelessne­ss.

About 20 veterans die by suicide each day, a rate basically unchanged during the Trump administra­tion. Trump earlier this year directed a Cabinet-level task force to develop a broader roadmap for veterans’ suicide prevention, due out next spring.

“Our veterans deserve leaders who will fight for them as ardently and as forcefully as they have fought for us,” Biden wrote in a Veterans Day statement with his wife, Jill.

In a jab at Trump, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders released a video highlighti­ng his role in working with the late Republican Sen. John Mccain, a decorated war hero, to pass legislatio­n that included the Veterans Choice program in 2014.

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