Monday, November 5, 2012


Despite the fact that we have been a nation at war for more than a decade, sadly, and surprisingly, the plight of America's veterans has not by any measure been a front-burner issue in this presidential election. But it's not too late for you to make it one.

Before you vote tomorrow, please ask yourself this question: Who would really do a better job the next four years creating a better life for our returning warriors? If you think it's Mitt Romney, you're just not paying attention.

Even if Romney is able to create those millions of new jobs he keeps talking about, it won't be enough to adequately address the massive problems facing our veterans. In addition to jobs (veteran unemployment overall is as low as it has been in four years, by the way), we must also intensify our focus on veterans' unique needs and offer them programs that help these men and women heal. 

As I reported just two weeks ago, at least 30 percent of post-9/11 veterans treated at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It's an epidemic, an enormous problem. But Romney has no plan. He has seemingly no grasp of the fact that veterans desperately need help making the tough transition from combat to civilian life, which includes dealing with the ghosts of war that haunt so many of our former warriors. 

President Obama, on the other hand, has made veterans' mental health a top priority. Michelle Obama, too, has consistently demonstrated her concern for struggling veterans and their families these past four years. 

As for getting veterans back to work, the Obama Administration has proposed, among other things, a $5 billion plan that will provide thousands of jobs to unemployed veterans. Several other veterans jobs bills Obama supports have been shot down by Romney-backing Republicans. 

For example, Senate Republicans recently blocked passage of the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, which would have established a $1 billion program putting veterans to work on federal lands and in local police and fire departments. 

And as I reported in September, a still-unidentified Republican senator tried to block disabled veterans and their survivors from getting a cost-of-living adjustment to their benefits, which historically gets unanimous support from both sides of the aisle. 

Would Romney have gone against Congressional Republicans on either of these things for the sake of our veterans? Not likely. But then who knows? It's unclear just what a Romney Administration would mean for veterans. He's offered no specifics. None.

Tellingly, during his Republican National Convention speech Romney didn't even mention the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history, or our veterans. That only magnified the already widespread skepticism over what he may or may not do for veterans if elected, which I addressed in a Newsweek/Daily Beast story back in July

If Romney's White House bid is successful, will he continue the current administration's efforts to launch new job and other programs for veterans both within and outside VA? Will he continue to make it a priority to support veterans and their families who are coping with PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other wounds of war? 

And while we're asking questions, here's a whopper: Why on earth has Romney chosen as his top advisers on veterans issues such people as James Nicholson, the former head of the VA who resigned in disgrace? 

A cover story in Newsweek that I reported in March 2007 showed that the VA under Nicholson, who Romney absurdly praises, was a disaster, a massive bureaucracy that was totally unprepared for the onslaught of troops returning from war and was failing America’s wounded. 

USA Today reported that same year that the VA’s clinics and hospitals suffered from hundreds of problems, including worn carpet, damaged floor tiles, leaking roofs and cockroach infestations. 

Why would Romney ask for any advice from a guy like Nicholson, who reportedly defended a budget measure that sought major cuts in staffing for VA healthcare, cut funding for nursing home care, and blocked four legislative measures aimed at streamlining the backlog of veterans benefit claims?

And what about the VA itself? Will Romney attempt to privatize it, which is something he raised as a possibility during the campaign? Last year in South Carolina, Romney talked about privatizing VA in much the same way that he talked about privatizing FEMA.

Romney reportedly said, “Sometimes you wonder, would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know, each soldier gets X-thousand dollars attributed to them and then they can choose whether they want to go on the government system or the private system and then it follows them, like what happens with schools in Florida where they have a voucher that follows them. Who knows?”

Really bad idea. Even generally conservative veterans groups like Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) responded quickly and negatively to Romney's notion. 

Romney supporters say his refusal to reduce the military budget is a sign that he supports veterans, and that Obama's call for strategic cuts in the military budget is a slap in face to veterans. But here's a reality check: there is no real connection between the military budget and veteran employment or veteran care. 

Obama has substantially increased the budget for the VA and demonstrably improved conditions at VA facilities, many of which were left in a shambles by the previous administration. The VA still has a long, long way to go, but it's on the right path.

And Obama's efforts toward getting our veterans back to work already seem to be paying off. In the newly released October jobs reportBureau of Labor Statistics researchers show that veteran unemployment dropped to 6.3 percent in October, its lowest point since before Obama took office. 

There are still nearly 700,000 veterans are looking for work, but that number has been steadily decreasing since a year and 1/2 ago, when more than 1 million veterans were trying to find jobs.

The not-as-good news is that unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans went up a bit last month, to 10 percent from 9.7 percent in September. That's still way too high. But it's still an improvement compared to 2011, when unemployment for that group consistently topped 11 percent and nearly 250,000 post-9/11 veterans were out of work.

Who would be better for America's veterans these next four years? That's for you to decide. But the choice seems abundantly clear.


  1. Did you happen to talk to a veteran or someone who works at the VA? As a veteran, mother of a veteran, wife of a veteran, mother of a VA nurse, wife of a VA nurse, and officer's wife, I can tell you you do not have this correct. Jamie you're better than just repeating the standard drive by propaganda. Next time you're in Des Moines, I'll walk with you through the VA and show you first hand.

    1. Thanks Connie. I've talked to literally thousands of veterans over the last decade and visited many VA facilities across the country. I think you should re-read my story. I said that there have been vast improvements at VA over the last four years, and that is 100 percent true. I've been covering veterans issues for more than 20 years. I do not write anything unless I know it is true. You might consider reading the failing our wounded Newsweek cover story i reported in 2007, or this story I wrote as a follow-up. . Regardless, thanks for reading the blog, and thanks sincerely to you and your family for your service to our country.