In a presidential race that's so far been dominated by immigration policy, the second Republican debate on Wednesday night took an interesting turn toward military policy, foreign policy, and veterans' affairs. Political outsiders Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump may have been the only ones to call attention to veteran issues in their answers on Wednesday night, but they were essentially echoing values that already run deep in the GOP political platform: America's veterans need and deserve a better healthcare system. This is basically the one issue the GOP candidates all agree on. And it's something that you can get behind, as well.
The agency responsible for providing physical and mental health services to those who have served in the military has come under fire for an alarming pattern of treatment delays, corruption, and poor service. In 2014, CNN uncovered details of a secret waiting list concocted by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix, Arizona to hide the fact that some 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months before seeing a doctor. An inspector general probe discovered that some 300,000 veterans died while awaiting medical care from the VA and that officials had conspired to cover up a system of inefficiencies.
The majority of Republican presidential candidates have a record on veteran issues. So, as you might expect, the candidates who have not held public office before — Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump — are doing more to distinguish themselves with members of the military and their families. Citing his background as a neurosurgeon, Ben Carson recently said Veterans Affairs should be eliminated because of the agency's failures. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina recently proposed crowdsourcing a better veteran health system. And real estate mogul Donald Trump has started sharing details about how he would handle national defense and support military veterans as president. The frontrunner has taken to calling himself the "most militaristic person" on any debate stage. And in a letter to CNN President Jeff Zucker before the second debate on Wednesday, Trump demanded CNN donate GOP debate revenue to veterans:
The veterans of our country, our finest people, have been treated horribly by our government and its ‘all talk and no action’ politicians. In fact, some would say they are treated like third class citizens—even worse, in many cases, than illegal immigrants.
The need for greater support is real. According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 340,000 veterans bet federal rental assistance, more than 900,000 veterans rely on food stamps, and more than 5,000 active duty servicemen and servicewomen get some type of nutrition assistance. Veterans make up more of the nation's homeless population and suicide rates for returning members of the military remain alarmingly high.
So, if Wednesday night's debate signaled that the Republican contenders are finally ready to start talking policy details, this is one issue should stay high on their list. Our nation's veterans need and deserve more government support. And even if you're undecided — or vehemently against — the GOP platform, this is the one thing it might actually be easy for us all to agree on.