When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be voting not just for a chief executive, but for the commander-in-chief, and given that the U.S. has been involved in the longest war in our history, the stakes have never been higher for service members, veterans, and their families.
A quick peek at Mitt Romney's website reveals a man who has latched on to one or two talking points almost effortlessly, and held steady.
On Romney's official site, one will also see a photograph of Romney in a business suit addressing service men and women in uniform. He looks like he could be addressing a board of directors, perhaps, or the Chamber of Commerce, maybe even the authors of his private trust, but not men and women who will find themselves doing active combat should he realize his objective of becoming the next president of the United States.
And, as Election Day is only a week away from Veterans Day, it might be a useful exercise to take a look at some of the legislation the Obama administration has enacted, over that pass three plus years, that directly benefits service members and veterans:
Last year, according to the Veterans of Foreign Affairs website, President Obama appeared before the Washington Navy Yard, and instructed the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to initiate "a task force to develop the first major redesign of the military's Transition Assistance Program, (TAP), in over 20 years."
As VFW asserts, the president has been working steadfastly with Congress to pass the Veterans Job Corps to help returning veterans get jobs in law enforcement, and as fire fighters.
The Obama administration has also insured that the Veterans Administration receive record funding, according to VFW, "with the FY13 budget calling for $64 billion in discretionary spending, and $76 billion in mandatory funding. In addition, the Administration has made it clear that veterans benefits are exempt from sequestration."
As a senator from Illinois, Barack Obama proposed a Post-9/11 GI bill, legislation he passed as president in which the Veterans Administration was awarded close to $20 billion in post 9/11 GI benefits affecting nearly a million veterans and their families, benefits which expand access to education.
Last year, according to the White House website, the president signed the Returning Heroes Tax Credit which gives businesses that hire veterans a tax credit of up to $5600 per veteran.
Another $4 billion has been added to the 2013 federal budget to hire more first responders, with an additional $1 billion slated to spur firefighter hiring.
As the president's first term draws to a close, and thanks to his efforts, nearly ten percent of all small businesses in the U.S. are owned by veterans, and more than 2 million of these businesses employ nearly 6 million people. "Between 2009 and 2011, over $3 billion through over 12,000 Small Business Administration loans went to small businesses owned by veterans and service disabled veterans."
This administration has worked tirelessly to provide housing relief to service members, and veterans facing foreclosure. The VA and Housing and Urban Development have successfully housed nearly 40,000 homeless veterans. The Obama administration has created a National Registry for Homeless Veterans, and a National Homeless Hotline.
Most importantly, President Obama signed into law a measure that funds the VA health care budget a year in advance, thereby improving care for veterans and service members suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and mental health disorders. The VA has added close to 4,000 mental health professionals since 2009. Health care programs for women veterans have also been expanded to include full-time mental health professionals.
With the number of suicides in the military, and among returning veterans reaching epidemic proportions, as VFW also reports, the VA has increased the number of mental health professionals by nearly 50 percent in the past six years, and announced last spring that it will hire nearly 2,000 more mental health professionals. Since Mr. Obama assumed the office of the presidency in 2009, the Veterans Administration has increased the mental health care budget by nearly 40%, but to look at Mitt Romney's website would make you think that the Obama administration has all but de-funded the VA. Mendacity in the first degree.
On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney never even mentioned veterans in any of his stump speeches. And, on the portion of his Web site that deals with veterans affairs, Romney keeps repeating the same empty phrase about adding 12 million new jobs, speaking in generalities, and intentionally misrepresenting the Obama administration's record on veterans by insisting his administration won't tolerate any cuts to defense.
Gov. Romney counts on voters not knowing, as VFW suggests, that "the president has made it clear that veterans benefits are exempt from sequestration." The truth is, when the Obama administration talks about cutting defense spending, they don't mean cutting veterans benefits. To the contrary, this administration has done everything in its power, from the get-go, to cut through the red tape, and see to it that help goes to soldiers on the front lines whether they be on the battlefield, or in their own backyards. By winding down the war in Afghanistan, and pulling troops from Iraq, this president has shown his commitment to the troops, and his respect for the sanctity of human life.
The GOP talks a good game about being pro-life, but the truth is they have put more men and women in harm's way than any generation in the past. And, if given the chance, they will continue to do so.
So, when you hear the president say, "We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States," these are not empty words. It is now up to you, veterans, service members, first responders, and your families to decide which candidate will best represent your interests, the fellow in the Brooks Brothers suit who has already conceded that he will lose 47 percent of the vote, who Mr. Romney regards as freeloaders, or the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who has fought to reduce taxes on 95 percent of Americans, and who will continue to do so as long as he has our vote.
Follow Jayne Lyn Stahl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaynelynstahl