Troops and veterans voting in the presidential election this fall won’t just be picking their choice for commander in chief, they’ll also be choosing which political party sets the agenda on military issues for the next four years.
Democratic and Republican leaders finalized their party platforms at their respective conventions in July last month, outlining a broad set of goals for handling how to handle national defense, Veterans Affairs reform and maintaining service members' morale. Both parties call for a stronger military. Both promise to defeat terrorism abroad and target destroy Islamic State group fighters in the Middle East. Both pledge to overhaul veterans’ healthcare programs.
But like the party’s presidential picks, the two plans also offer stark contrasts as well. Republicans promise to take a more aggressive stance against hostile threats abroad. Democrats advocate laud the importance of diplomacy and alliances as the smartest a better path to security. Neither plan agrees on what VA reform means.
For military personnel members and their families, those stances could have long-reaching implications act beyond just the next president’s time in the White House. Here are’s some of the key distinctions conflict points between the two parties' platforms.
Military pay, benefits
Democrats want to
a key point of their platform
, promising to push
more educational benefits and job training" for
troops and veterans. Party leaders also vowed to ensure
pledged to make sure
reservists and National Guard personnel
are "treated fairly" when it comes to
benefits, and to improve services to help them transition to civilian careers.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has reinforced that idea in recent months on the campaign trail, and speakers at the party convention in Philadelphia reiterated those general promises
But the Republican platform on military benefits is significantly more detailed. It
supports a full military pay raise
equal to the private sector's average annual rise
civilian rise in wages, for those in the ranks
. It also decries Pentagon cuts to other
by Pentagon in military
benefits, proposals that many conservative lawmakers have reluctantly approved in recent years.
"Military families must be assured of the pay, healthcare, housing, education, and overall support they have earned," the Republican platform says. "In recent years, they have been carrying the burden of budgetary restraint more than any other Americans through cuts in their pay, health benefits, and retirement plans.
We cannot expect that level of patriotic commitment to continue among young people who have experienced the way their families have been treated."
Neither party’s plan fully outlines how to pay for any
s would be paid for
. Both sides blame ongoing budget caps, approved by Congress in 2011, for the financial squeeze being put on service members and their families. Yet
neither party has identified
a compromise that would
replace those spending limits.
Military size, strength
Republicans promise in their platform to "reverse America’s military decline," a situation they blame on too little funding and too few troops. Their
plan calls for adding
a plus up in
, "increasing investments in training and maintenance," and rebuilding military facilities worldwide.
"Successive years of cuts to our defense budget have put an undue strain on our men and women in uniform," the platform states. "This is especially harmful at a time when we are asking our military to do more in an increasingly dangerous world."
That message has been underscored repeatedly by GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. In his convention acceptance speech on July 21, he vowed to "completely rebuild our depleted military" and make foreign allies "pay their fair share" of the cost of stationing U.S. troops and equipment overseas.
The Democratic platform calls for "a smart, predictable defense budget that meets the strategic challenges we face." The document makes no mention of force size
, but it does promise to address the
readiness shortfalls that Republicans highlight
"We must prioritize military readiness by making sure our active, reserve, and National Guard components remain the best trained and equipped in the world," it states. "We will seek a more agile and flexible force, and rid the military of outdated Cold War-era systems."
Clinton underscored her message of relying on both diplomacy and military might in her nomination acceptance speech Thursday night
on July 28
"America's strength doesn't come from lashing out," she said. "Strength relies on smarts, judgment, cool resolve, and the precise and strategic application of power..."
"Keeping our nation safe and honoring the people who do it will be my highest priority."
The Democratic plans also include promises to end waste in the defense budget, detailing a high-level commission to review the role of defense contractors in Pentagon operations.
The Democratic platform praises repeal of the military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" law, which prohibited gay troops from publicly revealing their sexual orientation, and lauds efforts to open all combat roles to women. It promises to build on those ideas, looking to ensure that minority groups within the military are protected while still being held to high standards for service.
Authors of the Democratic goals call diversity and social justice issues in the ranks a key step in strengthening the armed forces.
"We believe that our nation is most secure when the president and the administration prioritize readiness, recruitment, and retention rather than using the military to advance a social or political agenda," the GOP document states.
That includes suggestions for requiring
[[[CAN WE CITE THE SOURCE OF THESE SUGGESTIONS? ARE THEY SPELLED OUT IN THE DEMS' PLATFORM?//A.deG.]]] of including
women to register with
— a proposal currently circulating on Capitol Hill — as well as creating
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the discussion of religion in the ranks and unspecified "intra-military special interest demonstrations."
"an objective review of the impact on readiness of the current administration’s ideology-based personnel policies" to determine if any such personnel changes need to be rolled back.
Democrats reject that stance entirely in their platform.
"Our military is strongest when people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities are honored for their service to our country," their document states. "Democrats welcome and honor all Americans who want to serve and will continue to fight for their equal rights and recognition."
The Democratic platform praises the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" law which prohibited gay troops from publicly revealing their sexual orientation and lauds the opening of all combat roles to women servicemembers.
It also promises to build on those ideas, looking for ways to ensure minority or disadvantaged groups within the military are protected while still being held to high standards for service.
The Republican platform promises to massively expand health care options outside VA as a way to alleviate wait times and get all veterans the best care possible.
The Democratic platform calls that idea a disaster.
"We reject attempts by Republicans to sell out the needs of veterans by privatizing the VA," their plan states. "We believe that the VA must be fully resourced so that every veteran gets the care that he or she has earned and deserves, including those suffering from sexual assault, mental illness and other injuries or ailments."
Most of Clinton’s campaign focus on veterans in recent months has centered on the issue of voucherizing or privatizing VA, an idea she has also promised to vigorously oppose.
Instead, both her staff and the Democratic platform have pledge to put in place more resources to make VA services operate better, rather than moving those appointments outside the system.
But the Republican platform — and Trump — see that approach as naive and too reserved.
"We cannot allow an unresponsive bureaucracy to blunt our national commitment"
the party’s platform states. "The VA must strengthen and improve its efforts through partnerships with private enterprises, veteran service organizations, technology and innovation.
"That includes allowing veterans to choose to access care in the community and not just in VA facilities, because the best care in the world is not effective if it is not accessible."
In his convention speech, Trump promised to make every federal department leader, including the next VA secretary, "provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days." He has repeatedly said eliminating fraud and abuse will help fund numerous reforms at the agency.
Republicans in the planning document also outline plans to bolster support for veterans’ cemeteries nationwide and improve transition support for troops leaving the ranks.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at