On Sept. 7, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will participate in a prime time public forum expressly dedicated to topics of consequence to the nation’s military and veterans communities.
Organized by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and set to air on NBC, the forum has been presented as an opportunity for the nominees to provide a clear, detailed picture of how they intend to manage the military and care for those who’ve served. That’s been lacking thus far. While both have pledged to keep the military strong, and to protect the benefits that some in Washington would cut, neither Trump nor Clinton has offered much of substance about how they would approach such decision-making.
Here are a few good places to start:
1. What’s to become of troops’ pay? Since 2013, the annual military pay raise has failed to keep pace with the private sector, averaging just 1.1 percent. Next year’s raise is likely to fall short, too, unless there’s a compromise between Congress and the White House. Retention bonuses have shriveled in recent years. Housing allowance is at risk (see below). It’s become too tight-fisted, and is costing the military its top talent while eroding military families’ buying power. The force deserves to hear how the next commander in chief will remedy this.
2. Why is my housing allowance being cut? The Senate is backing some creative cuts to troops’ basic allowance for housing, or BAH. Lawmakers want to reimburse only the cost of rent and utilities, rather than a location-specific stipend. There are talks now, too, of slashing the stipend for thousands of married couples who both serve in uniform. It’s estimated that some families will lose hundreds of dollars per month, and experts fear some will become overextended as a result. How would Trump or Clinton protect what’s become a significant piece of the military’s overall compensation package?
3. Is the government reneging on its GI Bill promises? In another bid to cut spending, lawmakers are pushing a plan to raid the Post-9/11 GI Bill. One proposal would reduce the growth of its housing allowance against inflation. Another would halve the housing stipend for those with dependents, a move that supporters say would save an estimated $733 million over a decade. Understandably, some veterans groups are furious. Clinton has offered general support for protecting the benefit, while Trump has been mostly silent on the issue. Veterans depend on the GI Bill to retrain before re-entering the private sector, and their service to the nation during wartime entitles them to a clear explanation as to what they should expect. How are they to plan otherwise?
4. How will you fix the VA? Clinton and Trump agree on one thing at least: The Department of Veterans Affairs needs serious attention. They differ wildly on how to go about fixing VA’s problems, though.
Clinton needs to clean up her confusing rhetoric when it comes to the VA. She acknowledges serious shortfalls when it comes to veterans’ care, but has slammed Republicans for what she calls overblowing the problems patients have encountered. And while Trump wants to offer the option for patients to seek care outside the VA network, he needs to explain how he would ensure that won’t increase costs and jeopardize other areas of the budget that benefit vets and their families.
Fewer things are more sacred to the military than the promise of health care — especially for those who’ve been wounded or fallen chronically ill as a result of their service. The candidates must demonstrate this issue has their full attention.
5. Why should I trust you? It truly is that simple. The candidates’ positions on key issues are important, but when troops and vets go into the voting booth, their decision will likely key on which candidate has their confidence. Both Trump and Clinton come with plenty of baggage, and most voters decided long ago who has earned theirs. But for those still on the fence, this forum represents perhaps the last opportunity to demonstrate why they deserve this demographic’s trust.