Swing voters the presidential debate forgot: veterans
Wednesday's presidential debate included some love for Big Bird, but none for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose plight was ignored. But vets could prove an important voting bloc.
‚ÄúIt was seriously disappointing,‚ÄĚ says Tom Tarantino, a former US Army captain and chief policy director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). ‚ÄúThis was the debate that was supposed to focus on domestic issues and care for the men and women who had come home from Iraq and Afghanistan ‚Äď it just didn‚Äôt seem like a priority.‚ÄĚ
This perplexes veterans advocacy groups. ‚ÄúWe have the ability to swing these elections ‚Äď that‚Äôs the biggest secret nobody seems to have keyed in on,‚ÄĚ Mr. Tarantino says.
Among IAVA‚Äôs members, 90 percent are registered to vote, roughly 40 percent of whom do not register or identify with any one party. The remaining 60 percent who do are equally split between the Republican and Democratic Parties.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre pretty politically independent, pretty politically savvy ‚Äď and we‚Äôre looking for candidates to address the needs that we‚Äôre facing,‚ÄĚ¬† he says.
And while veterans represent only 6 percent of voters overall, US military bases ‚Äď and thus the former fighters themselves ‚Äď are concentrated in a number of swing states.
Their particular concerns include lowering the veteran unemployment rate, protecting veterans‚Äô education benefits, improving support for female veterans, and extending critical Veterans Administration services, says Tarantino.
‚ÄúWith one veteran committing suicide every 36 hours, a 10.9 percent unemployment rate, and veterans‚Äô education under attack from predatory for-profit schools, candidates and policy makers have a moral obligation to care for those who have served our country,‚ÄĚ according to the IAVA Voter Guide.
The passing references during the debate to the US armed forces ‚Äď Mitt Romney said he believes the military ‚Äúshould be second to none,‚ÄĚ and President Obama cited the dangers of giving the Pentagon upwards of $2 trillion in money it‚Äôs not requesting ‚Äď fell short of the robust debate of veterans issues for which the IAVA and other advocacy organizations had hoped.
‚ÄúA passing reference to military spending isn‚Äôt enough,‚ÄĚ says Tarantino. ‚ÄúSaying ‚ÄėI will support the military,‚Äô and ‚ÄėThank you for your service‚Äô ‚Äď while that‚Äôs fine and we appreciate it, we have serious problems,‚ÄĚ he adds. ‚ÄúAnd, so far, we haven‚Äôt been hearing a lot of specifics.‚ÄĚ