Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley offered his sweeping veterans and military policy platform Monday, to include ending veterans unemployment by 2020, overhauling health care offerings and ending "wrongful" military discharges related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
The move comes just hours before Veterans Day and gives a direct response to criticism from veterans groups that the Democrat still hadn't engaged on those issues enough, either on the campaign trail or on his website.
"Veterans have not escaped Washington's dysfunction," the former Maryland governor's campaign states in his new policy paper. "While some progress has been made at (VA), the current situation remains unacceptable. Further reform and bold actions are needed to ensure instances of data manipulation and secret wait lists never happen again."
Those reforms include expanding several of O'Malley's veterans initiatives in Maryland to a national level, including the use of new data analysis tools and a greater emphasis on local facility control and response.
He promises to lead "a national call to action to prevent veteran suicide," to include personally touring multiple VA health facilities during his first month in office and increasing the number of mental health professionals within the department.
O'Malley also promised better interoperability of VA and Pentagon health records and more accountability of senior VA executives, although of those goals have been promised — and unsuccessfully executed — by past administrations.
The candidate also has pledged to crack down on "predatory for-profit colleges" and close the 90/10 loophole that excludes GI Bill benefits from schools' calculations of federal funds.
For troops dismissed under the now-repealed "don't ask, don't tell" law, O'Malley supports automatically upgrading their service records, removing any blemish on their military careers.
Those moves follow calls from veterans groups that their issues have not received enough attention in the campaign so far, especially in light of VA scandals in recent years involving patient wait times and mismanagement within the department.
O'Malley's Democratic primary opponents, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have highlighted veterans issues in their campaign stops, but to mixed success.
Clinton received criticism in October for comments that downplayed past problems at VA, and blamed Republicans for looking to score political points instead of passing needed reforms. Sanders has received criticism for his time as chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, and oversight lapses related to that panel's work.
O'Malley trails Clinton and Sanders by significant margins in national polls.