Republican leaders still don't know who will be their standard bearer in the 2016 presidential race, but they're already recruiting an army of veterans to support that candidate.

Officials with the Republican National Committee recently launched a push to bring former service members into their Republican Leadership Initiative, an effort to train GOP supporters for field organizer work in next year's campaigns.

"Eight years of failed leadership in the White House has devastated military readiness, slashed military pay and retirement benefits, decimated morale amongst the troops who don't trust their civilian leadership, and left veterans to die while waiting for the health care their service and sacrifices earned," the group says on its veterans outreach website.

"And yes, your country needs you, America's veterans, to fix this."

The move is the latest indicator that veterans issues could play a larger role in the 2016 elections than in past recent election cycles, and that veterans will have more opportunities to have their views highlighted and dissected in the months to come.

Bob Carey, RNC military and veterans engagement director, said the goal is to have several hundred veterans working on the front lines in battleground states to talk with undecided voters and apathetic peers about issues related to national security and Veterans Affairs Department reform.

"A lot of the key states have large veterans populations, so that's a demographic that needs to be considered," Carey said.

RNC research indicates that younger veterans vote at a lower rate than their civilian peers and are less likely to be registered to vote. Small increases in either measure could pay large dividends to the political party that can rally veterans to their candidates.

Exit polls from the 2012 presidential election showed veterans backing GOP candidates by a wide margin over their Democratic rivals, 59 percent to 39 percent.

Carey believes those voters can be turned into organizers, given the scandals surrounding the VA under President Obama's watch.

Democratic National Committee officials have not announced a similar outreach push yet, but have already countered RNC assertions that VA's problems are mounting instead of lessening.

Their 2016 efforts will focus on highlighting improvements at the VA under Obama's tenure, including dramatic funding increases, a decline in the number of homeless veterans and progress on longstanding problems like the disability claims backlog.

They have also accused several Republican presidential candidates of working to privatize and dismantle VA operations, a proposal that major veterans groups have promised to fight.

Information on the RNC's organizing work is available at its website. Information on the DNC's veterans and military families platform is available on its website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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