Veterans could be key in the 2020 presidential election, and both candidates say they're making vets a priority in their platforms.
Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have released their campaign platforms -- what they say they plan to accomplish should they be elected to lead the United States. But when it comes to veterans, those platforms vary greatly.
Trump's "second-term agenda" released last month includes a long list of bullet points, and one of them mentions veterans.
"Protect our veterans and provide world-class health care and services," the president's plan reads. The plan doesn't include an elaboration on that point so far.
But the president also has a nearly full term in office to speak for him and can be counted on to mention veterans in many of his major public speeches and appearances. Trump has made his veterans policies a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, frequently promoting the Mission Act, which replaced the Choice Act and provided expanded access to private care for veterans, paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also frequently mentions his increased funding of VA and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, established under his administration, which he says has helped "clean up VA." The president earlier this year unveiled his nationwide campaign and plan aimed at reducing veteran suicide.
Neither the president nor the former vice president has any military service themselves.
Biden is the father of a soldier and a former sailor, though he himself never wore the uniform, receiving draft deferments during Vietnam like the president. His younger son Hunter Biden became a sailor later in life but was discharged following a positive drug test. His older son Beau Biden, an Army major who served in Iraq, died in 2015 at 46 from brain cancer. Biden has said he believes his son's cancer may have been caused by military toxic exposures and he has made addressing veterans' exposures a key part of his platform.
Biden's campaign outlined his history on veterans issues in the Senate and as part of the Obama administration, including advocating for expanded benefits for Agent Orange-exposed Vietnam veterans, care for disabled and women veterans, cutting veteran homelessness and unemployment, veteran education benefits, reducing VA appointment backlogs and more.
Both candidates have said they've worked, and will continue to work, to reduce veteran suicides. VA estimates about 20 veterans and service members die by suicide daily.
Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen outlined the most extreme plan, advocating that VA essentially be dismantled and "replaced" in favor of a voucher system for veterans to receive care through private healthcare providers. Jorgensen argued that the "VA system is beyond repair" and called for a reduction in VA's spending on healthcare by 75% in favor of direct payments to veterans "so they can spend their healthcare dollars how and where they want to spend them."
Trump promoted his signing of the Mission Act again, calling it the "most significant reform in VA care since its inception."
He said he has also strengthened VA's hospital system.
"The VA also needs to be the right size to address veteran needs in the future, focusing resources on the areas where its impact can be greatest," the president said in his response. "The Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission will ensure the VA of the future best serves our veterans. The VA’s health system reform will ensure that service members will have one electronic medical record from the first day of boot camp until they are honorably laid to rest. These improvements will allow for far better coordinated and higher-quality care."
Trump and his campaign provided few other details about his specific plans for veterans.
In his campaign platform, Biden, lacking an incumbent president's record, outlined a more detailed plan to MOAA and on his campaign website. He said, if elected, he would work to ensure VA "provides the world-class health care that our veterans have earned and deserve and sets the example for private-sector care," including an emphasis on mental health care unique to veterans. But Biden said VA is also "struggling with rapidly deteriorating infrastructure" as demand for treatment at VA only increases. He said he plans to further improve the option for veterans to receive community care while striking "the right balance between VA and community care."
One of his major priorities, Biden told MOAA, was expanding VA's list of presumptive conditions to "ensure that no veteran who experienced a (traumatic brain injury) or had exposure to burn pits or other environmental toxins goes without access to VA health care and benefits.
"We must never again have an Agent Orange-like crisis," he said.
Biden also specifically mentioned veterans and the pandemic in his response, saying that he would ensure those who are exposed "receive the best possible treatment."
So far during the pandemic, VA has seen more than 60,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 3,300 patient deaths.
Biden's other veteran platform promises include:
• Improve hiring and retention at VA, which has had tens of thousands of vacancies in recent years
• Ensure community care providers are giving veterans quality care in a timely manner
• Work to improve health services for women veterans, including at least one full-time women's primary care physician at each VA medical center in his first 200 days in office
• Pass the Deborah Sampson Act
• Provide funding for childcare at all VA medical centersEliminate co-pays for veterans' preventative health care
• Increase VA research by $300 million for TBI and toxic exposure
• Free, modern prosthetics for veterans
• More funding for veteran alcohol and drug abuse treatment
• Support legalizing marijuana for medical use, allowing VA to research and recommend the drug for veterans
• Expand VA's veteran caregiver program
• Increase funding for VA telehealth, especially in rural areas
• Modernize VA hospitals and clinics according to areas with highest patient demand
• Create new recovery housing for veterans treated for substance use disorders and those who are homeless by refurbishing older VA facilities. Create a public health plan in the first 200 days in office to address veteran suicide
• Work to facilitate and expand emergency mental health treatment for veterans, including eliminating wait times for veterans in crisis within the first year in office
• Reform the policy and review processes for veterans to reduce the number of "unjust" other-than-honorable discharges.