Platform Check: Presidential Nominees Share Plans To Help Veterans

Sep 13, 2016
Originally published on September 13, 2016 5:26 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The presidential race is, a lot of times, about stump speeches, polls and accusations. It is also about ideas and policy.

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HILLARY CLINTON: We'll build a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who are...

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DONALD TRUMP: We are going to build a great border wall to stop...

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CLINTON: Wall Street, corporations and the super-rich are going to start paying their fair share of taxes.

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TRUMP: On the economy, I will outline reforms to add millions of jobs and trillions in new wealth.

MCEVERS: It is time now for Platform Check, where we examine what the candidates will do if they become president. A lot of the president's power is symbolic. But for one group of people in particular, people who serve or have served in the military, that power is very real.

The president is the commander-in-chief. Today, we're going to look at what a President Trump or Clinton would do for veterans. And to help us, we have NPR's Quil Lawrence. Hey, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hi.

MCEVERS: OK. So the Department of Veterans Affairs is the second-largest department in the federal government after the Pentagon. The VA has a $180 billion annual budget. And the VA under President Obama had some pretty big challenges, right?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. The VA, for more than two years now, has just been sort of one scandal after another. They've been putting out fires - lot of fires, lot of smoke. The bullet points, though - the things the VA needs to tackle you can list off - mental health issues, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, support for disabled vets, homelessness. But there's a greater sort of overarching issue - is how to reform the entire VA.

MCEVERS: So those are the challenges that the next president will inherit. How would Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton deal with them?

LAWRENCE: You know, I thought I'd be able to answer that question for you, especially after last week's head-to-head interviews on NBC News, which - it was sort of a near-debate sponsored by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. It was supposed to be just about veterans' issues.

But it really didn't get beyond the talking points. And the talking points are pretty similar for both candidates. Although, their styles are very different. We can listen to Hillary Clinton - what she said at that forum about, for example, preventing veteran suicide.

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CLINTON: So I rolled out my mental health agenda last week. And I have a whole section devoted to veterans' mental health. And we've got to remove the stigma. We've got to help people currently serving not to feel that if they report their sense of unease - their depression - that somehow it's going to be a mark against them. We have to do more about addiction - not only drugs but also alcohol. So I have put forth a really robust agenda.

LAWRENCE: And she goes on to talk about making an easier transition from military to civilian life.

MCEVERS: What would Donald Trump do?

LAWRENCE: Trump was asked a similar question about what to do about the 20 veterans a day that take their own lives?

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TRUMP: A lot of it is they're killing themselves over the fact that they can't - they're under tremendous pain. And they can't see a doctor. We're going to speed up the process. We're going to create a great mental health division. They need help. They need help. They need tremendous help. And we're doing nothing for them. The VA is really almost - you could say a corrupt enterprise.

LAWRENCE: And that might make the most obvious difference between these two because Clinton is much more likely to talk about modernizing the VA - for example, getting the Pentagon and VA to share electronic health records. And Trump is more likely to talk about the VA's problems being corrupt staff and the inability of the bureaucracy to get rid of those corrupt staff.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Later in that answer, Trump mentioned having veterans use private doctors. Here's what he said.

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TRUMP: So we are going to make it efficient and good. And if it's not good, you're going out to private hospitals, public hospitals and doctors.

MCEVERS: Is that another contrast between these two candidates?

LAWRENCE: It is, and it isn't. Both candidates say that they'll use the private sector to alleviate the shortage of doctors and nurses, which is one of the main things that's causing all these long waits at the VA. But Trump's plan sounds a little bit more like a voucher system. And Clinton said at that same forum that she sees this as part of a plot for privatizing the VA.

Now, Trump denies he wants to privatize the VA. Veterans groups are very strongly opposed to privatization because there are certain things a VA does that are so specific to veterans. And it's also not clear that the private system really does deliver better care.

MCEVERS: Donald Trump, of course, has said some things that have offended military families. I'm thinking about the Khans, who spoke at the Democratic Convention, the Muslim parents of a fallen soldier. But has that affected him? I mean, is one or the other of these candidates clearly winning the vote with veterans?

LAWRENCE: Donald Trump is clearly winning the military and the veteran vote. But there's a misconception that veterans vote as a bloc. And they don't. They usually vote along with their race, age and gender. And the just under 20 million veterans in this country are 79 percent white, 91 percent male. And they skew older.

So Donald Trump should be cleaning up with this group. But I should say both candidates are pretty unpopular among vets, just like they're unpopular in the country at large. There was a recent story in Military Times. And the headline was "By And Large, The Military Thinks Trump And Clinton Are Total Losers."

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Quil Lawrence. Thank you very much.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.