GETTYSBURG, Pa. ― The mortar and cannon fire erupting around Stan Clark didn’t faze him.
He weaved past Union and Confederate soldiers marching to and from the battlefield below their encampment, unflinching as the bombs burst in the air. This Marine had a job to do.
Clark, the director of the Adams County Office of Veterans Affairs, didn’t have much time to sit back and watch Saturday’s Civil War re-enactment that this area is famous for every Fourth of July weekend. That was for the tourists; the Gettysburg National Military Park and its surrounding county often see more than a million of them each year.
Clark, 65, was focused on outreach. He waved at the soldiers and civilians who were re-enacting a war that started more than 150 years ago, because he recognized that many of them were patriots serving in the wars we fight today.
And he knew, most of all, that they have real-world needs ― many of which haven’t been met under President Donald Trump.
Military families are growing less enthusiastic about the president, according to polling data that The Wall Street Journal collected and analyzed last month. The data suggests that military communities, not just here, but also nationwide, are beginning to lose faith in Trump’s administration.
While Clark hasn’t quite lost faith yet, he is taking a wait-and-see approach, he said.
“With Trump, a big part of his campaign was to reform the VA and make it work better ” Clark told HuffPost. “But with the current administration, it’s a little too soon to tell, because we all have different expectations when we’re told things are gonna get better.”
Clark and other conservative veterans HuffPost spoke to in Gettysburg are waiting for Trump to make good on promises he made on the campaign trail ― but the two moves the White House have made since his election are disappointing.
In April, he signed a bill to extend the troubled Veterans Choice program, a $10 billion attempt at speeding up veterans’ access to healthcare after a 2014 scandal in which thousands of veterans either died waiting for treatment or spent months on a waiting list.
While altruistic as an idea, the program has been marred by logistical woes and sometimes makes access a near impossibility for veterans and healthcare providers alike.
“Veterans need care ― but this Choice program isn’t working the way they wanted it to,” said one Army veteran who was on active duty for 24 years, and asked not to be named for this article. Military servicemen and women are often reticent to speak to the press about the president; it’s against protocol to speak out against the commander in chief. This particular veteran said he was hesitant to speak on the record because he “works for the state.”
He said he’s anxious that the government will lessen his benefits, but at the same time, he lashed out at safety net programs that serve civilians.
Trump is continuing a long tradition, he said, of taking away from the people who have served in war.
“But you and I know it’s not just him. It’s the whole administration.”
In June, Trump signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, making it easier for the secretary of veterans affairs to fire or discipline employees. While it was advertised as a response to the 2014 scandal, veterans didn’t sign up for more oversight from the government.
“To a lot of people this seems completely ridiculous. Why was this necessary?” Clark said. “They passed it for the VA, they should have passed it for all the cabinet levels and all the government agencies. They should hold true to that.”
It’s too early to tell whether Trump is losing America’s military families completely. But the veterans HuffPost spoke to in Adams County were looking for something ― anything ― that signaled this administration was earning their vote. The system has been “broken for a long time,” according to Clark, and locals have a hard time trusting promises by Trump’s administration just as they did Obama’s.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say people are losing their faith since this administration,” he said. “They lost it completely and very candidly over the course of decades.”
Clark cased the grounds Saturday to offer his services to the men and women there in uniform. Though they were dressed in Civil War garb that day, many of them are also present-day military vets, so the battlefields are the perfect place for him to provide outreach. He’s the middle man between vets and the federal government ― and if the government won’t help them, he will.
That’s why he’s looking forward to the policy geared toward veterans that Trump promised all along.
“I sincerely hope, more than almost anything, that he stays true to his word.”