Commentary

Trump’s misleading claims on military readiness and veteran care

As President Donald Trump tries to divert attention from the ill-advised comments that, according to multiple sources he made about the military and veterans during his time in office, he has constantly referred to what he has done for them since coming into office.

According to the president, he inherited a military from President Barrack Obama that was severely depleted, lacking modern and sufficient equipment, and a veterans' health-care system that did not allow veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA even when it was unable to provide this care for them in a timely manner. However, as with most of the claims that the president makes, these claims are both false and misleading.

The military the president inherited from Obama was not depleted or facing a massive readiness crisis, which resulted from massive underfunding in the Obama years. In fact, according to Gen. David Petraeus ,who commanded our troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan and also headed the CIA, and Michael O’Hanlon, there was no readiness crisis and in 2016, the year Trump was elected, the state of our military was “awesome.”

Nor was the defense budget seriously underfunded in the Obama years. If one controls for inflation, in FY2021 dollars Obama spent $3.3 trillion in his first term compared with the $2.9 trillion under Trump. Moreover, while defense spending did decline slightly in Obama’s second term, it still amounted to $2.7 trillion, about $200 million, or 7 percent less, than Trump’s first-term budget. However, this decline was a result of the Budget Control Act or sequestration (BCA,) which was instituted by his current chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who was then a congressman from South Carolina.

Nor has Trump, as he claimed, spent all of his defense budget money on buying equipment such as ships, fighter jets, tanks and weapons. In fact, since coming into office, the president has spent about $591 billion, or a little more than 20 percent of his total budget, on buying equipment. He does not seem to realize that the vast majority of the defense budget goes for personnel and operating costs. Moreover, in Obama’s first term he actually spent about $65 billion, or 11 percent, more than Trump on buying equipment for the troops.

Trump’s claims about what he has done for the veterans are equally misleading. As at a press conference on Aug. 8, 2020, the president said, “I’ve just signed two bills that are great for our vets. We passed Choice as you know — Veterans' Choice — and Veterans' Accountability. We passed Choice. They’ve been trying to get that passed for decades and decades and decades, and no president has been able to do it and we got it done so veterans have Choice.”

The choice that Trump is referring to is one that makes it easier for veterans to seek care outside of the VA because it allows them to get this care paid for by the government from the VA budget.

But this program, known as the Veterans Choice Act, was passed, not by Trump, but in 2014 by the Obama administration. Trump was so upset when a reporter pointed this out at the press conference, where he bragged about what he had done for veterans, that he said she was finished, and he abruptly ended the press conference.

In 2018, the Congress did pass and Trump signed the VA Mission Act. It builds upon the Choice Act and does expand eligibility and make it easier for a veteran to go to a private facility, but it does not change the essence of the 2014 act. Moreover, since the Mission Act was passed the number of veterans seeking care outside the VA has declined and every objective study has shown that the VA health-care system provides better and less expensive health care than the private sector.

If Trump really wants to honor and help those who are serving or who have served, he should publicly recognize their sacrifices and what they have done for this country, even if he has to disagree or overrule some of them occasionally. They are not suckers or losers but, as reported by Jeff Goldberg and Bob Woodward, by their sacrifices have and continue to make this country great.

Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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