Editor’s Note: Christopher Neiweem, a legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserve as a military police noncommissioned officer and served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2003. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Iraq veteran Christopher Neiweem: Trump is attempting to use veterans as political pawns
Neiweem: The remarks slight McCain's real sacrifices in war and his present-day work on behalf of veterans
Donald Trump’s remarks disparaging Sen. John McCain’s military service were particularly objectionable coming from a man who, despite his tough talk, avoided military service through the deferment process. By contrast, McCain stepped up to the plate to serve.
Trump has never served a day in the military. Yet he feels comfortable playing politics with the service of a decorated veteran and slights the sacrifices McCain made as a prisoner of war. And in the process, he’s ignored McCain’s very real contribution in recent years to helping America pay its debts to veterans.
Trump charges that McCain has let veterans down and has not provided us the support we need. The reality is that McCain has long supported veterans’ benefits in Congress. And I can personally say from working with him and his staff in Washington in my role with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America – he cares deeply about our veterans and has the accomplishments to back it up. Trump should fund some research on the senator’s record so he can learn a few of those accomplishments – but let’s just take the last two years for a snapshot.
McCain was a key lawmaker driving Congress to adopt the Veterans Access to Choice and Accountability Act following last summer’s health care waitlist scandal in Phoenix. The senator also co-sponsored the first piece of veterans legislation to become law this year, the IAVA-spearheaded Clay Hunt SAV Act, designed to reduce suicides among veterans.
Famous captives: Life after freedom
Certainly there have been policy disagreements between McCain and different national veterans service organizations over the years, but the claim that he has not supported veterans is flat wrong. McCain is one of us, and because of sacrifices such as his, Americans enjoy free speech, even if that speech is prone to being wrongheaded and disparaging during presidential election years.
This would be the perfect opportunity for Trump to articulate his own policy positions and show how they would benefit our community more than those of McCain. He has failed thus far to do this.
Trump’s remarks were a classic example of the way in which vets are often used as political pawns, in a society where there is a divide between civilians and the military and little understanding of what service involves. There was no substantive vision, specifics or value to Trump’s remarks.
As a result, we are seeing a useless discussion of whether McCain meets the definition of “war hero” instead of a serious conversation about veterans and what we owe them.
This is exactly the type of thing veterans are tired of. Our community deserves more substantive engagement from people running for national office.
We have not seen a single presidential candidate lay out a comprehensive plan, with policy recommendations, to support our nation’s veterans. They deserve leadership and action from those who aspire to be national officeholders.
So my message to candidates, including Mr. Trump, is: Let’s hear substance during political speeches about veterans. And Sen. McCain’s service should be applauded, not attacked.