Since the early days of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers have been returning home and finding themselves engaged in politics for the first time in their lives. Many of us have taken the lead of those who have come before, from Gulf War I, Vietnam, or Korea. As we have discovered the incredible bond that fellow veterans share we also discovered the voice that veterans can bring to the discussions in Washington. It is a continuation of our call to duty. We have seen the development of organizations on both sides of the political spectrum such as Votevets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA), VETPAC, Veterans for Freedom, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and others. It is becoming increasingly important that both the progressive movement and the Democratic Party as a whole harnesses the voices that this community. These voices are critical as November 4th quickly approaches.
Now, we must work to get the word out to the incredibly engaged Veteran voting community that both a President Obama and a Democratic Congress will actually uphold the sacred trust our nation has with Veterans that we have seen ignored by the Bush Administration.
Recently I have been working with the Eleison Group helping Congressional campaigns across this country create Veterans Advisory Councils to help candidates build bridges with veterans in their communities. Republicans have been doing this for decades and too many of our progressive candidates make tactical errors by ceding this community to their opponent.
Veterans are not a homogeneous voting bloc who vote for a veteran candidate like John McCain or support only Republican values. National Veteran Service Organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or the American Legion have become overly conservative driving many to believe their members feel the same way. This is far from the reality.
Groundbreaking work was undertaken during Vietnam Veteran John Kerry's Presidential campaign in 2004, and many young Iraq Veterans like me joined Vets for Kerry. There were many lessons learned from this campaign and Veteran leaders are finding ways to better communicate with this community both on Veteran Administration issues, but more importantly on National Security issues. It is time that both the party members and candidates learn how to engage veterans and military families.
The Obama campaign has made great strides by creating Vets for Obama and Blue Star Families for Obama (military families), appointing state chairs, and utilizing former soldiers of all ranks, Private to General, as surrogates. It helps greatly that Senator McCain has a dismal record on Veterans issues. As a vet myself, I greatly respect his service, but am appalled at learn that he received a D from IAVA while Obama received a B Plus for his record.
Brian McGough, an Iraq Veteran of Votevets said it the best,
A vote for John McCain is a vote for ONE veteran.
A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for ALL veterans.
The Truman National Security Project recently launched the Strong Military Project to inform the public and push civilian leaders on both sides of the aisle to adopt military policies that serve the best interests of our nation. The site provides great reference material, but most importantly two viral videos titled "Real Leadership" and "Military Values." These efforts capture the voices of those who served and provide a strong argument for progressive policies.
It will be incredibly important to have a Congress who understands and is willing to have a dialogue with both the veterans and military families so legislation on VA issues as well as reforms for our National Security can move forward. With only days left in this election, we must be sure that our local Congressional candidates down the ticket will also reach out to the veteran and military family community. There are certain candidates who have done well in this by developing strong veteran policies and even pledges to restore the sacred trust. Unfortunately, there are just as many who have not even begun to build the bridges necessary.
What can you do?
Reach out to your local campaign. Check out their website. If they have not already, let them know they should take the opportunity before this week ends and do the following:
1. Form Veterans for "Candidate" Committee and utilize volunteers, family members, and supporters. Only a handful of supporters are necessary.
2. Find their opponents record on Veterans issue, some quick and easy research is available through groups like IAVA or Disabled American Veterans.
3. Create a simple Veterans Policy. There are great many templates available online.
4. Hold a Press Conference announcing the Committee and the Policy. Depending on the opponent's record, they can use this opportunity to draw a contrast.
Also, share with them one simple rule, if you are talking National Security, rally as many veteran supporters there to either support you or act as surrogates.
The next week gives us a great opportunity to do some critical outreach. Following the election we must execute an After Action Review (military term for lessons learned) and ensure we continue to build the bridge that has been created with our veterans and military families.
Let us no longer cede this community to folks who have failed to support and provide for our troops, veterans, and military families while asking so much of them.
This election provides us an opportunity to once again establish the Democrats as the party who will restore that sacred trust with our veterans.