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The military is at the center of presidential politics — but for all the wrong reasons

Military personnel, veterans and their families Service members have become the focus been thrust into the center of the presidential politics election in recent days, but there's growing outside advocates worry that it’s for all the wrong reasons.

"Yes, we're talking about military families and veterans on the campaign trail, and that's normally a great thing," said Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your Six, a prominent advocacy group. "But we're not talking about anything of substance.

"If we can’t talk about veterans health and ... civilian integration and military transition issues, then this is all a wasted opportunity."

Instead, what campaign officials and many most media outlets have highlighted been talking about is the latest series of military-themed scandals surrounding Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. In recent days, the business mogul publicly sparred publicly with the father of a Army officer soldier killed in Iraq, saw had his Vietnam draft deferments from Vietnam called into question, joked about receiving getting a free Purple Heart from one of his a supporters, and compelled spurred the sitting president to label him "unfit" to serve as commander-in-chief.

At a rally in Nevada on Monday, Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was forced to quiet a crowd that had begun to boo the mother of an deployed airman. Catherine Byrne had asked Pence how long he would tolerate what she called Trump's disrespect toward the military.

Despite all of this attention, very little of the broader conversation has mentioned the military and veterans reform strategies proposed by Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Both parties have called for a stronger military, vowing to defeat terrorism abroad and target Islamic State fighters in the Middle East. Both have pledged, too, to overhaul veterans' healthcare programs.

Last week, while speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention in North Carolina, both candidates outlined a number of specific changes they want to implement at to the Department of Veterans Affairs, during speeches before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in North Carolina late last month. VFW Group officials called it a chance to hear where the presidential hopefuls stand ood on issues such as like "educational benefits, job training and employment programs, and a renewed commitment to return our fallen from their battlefields."

But any substantive That talk has, for the most part, been was largely drowned out by controversies arising at Republican and Democratic the parties' national conventions.

At the Republican event, for exampleinstance, GOP leaders’ plans for an entire night devoted to national security were largely overshadowed by the alleged plagiarism in Melania Trump’s convention speech. 

The Democrats’ national security night included was highlighted by an emotional speech by Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who accused Trump of being ignorant about of the Constitution, and declaring the businessman and reality TV star had sacrificed ing "nothing and no one" for America. Trump took exception to the comments, attacking Khan as a partisan liar and suggesting the grieving Muslim father doesn’t understand the real issues at hand.

On Monday, officials from Got Your Six, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and four other advocacy groups issued a statement in response. It says stating bluntly that "the loss and sacrifice of the Khan family has earned them the right to ask hard questions of all those seeking elected office."

Instead of fielding calls this week about VFW convention speeches, the group's national commander, Brian Duffy, this week was forced to issue a statement that his group "will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech." There are adding that "there are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed," he added.

Clinton campaign officials responded to the Trump gaffes by compiling pulling together a video featuring the various of all the ways his campaign has insulted or upset veterans.

But Rausch — along with other advocates trying to stay out of the latest problematic campaign spotlight — said this hyper-at new focus on the military themes doesn’t amount to real progress in getting important military and veterans issues better highlighted on the campaign trail.

"In a vacuum, theses [conventions] have been good events to start the conversation," he said. "But if starting to talk about military strategy and veterans issues was two steps forward, all of these controversies are at least one big step backwards."

His organization group is pushing both campaigns for private meetings in coming weeks with groups like Blue Star Families, to talk about the challenges facing individuals involved in these election-year controversies, and how the next commander in chief should handle those issues.

Trump and Clinton have promised to make national security a key focus of their campaigns moving forward, as the presidential election season enters its final 100 days. It Just how long military themes will stay at the forefront remains to be seen, however, precisely how the current conversation will evolve.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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