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Donald Trump Doesn’t Respect or Care to Help Veterans. He Just Wants Our Votes.

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The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to [email protected] for consideration.

The gist of Rep. Derrick Van Orden’s op-ed published earlier this month by Military.com is that former President Donald Trump has done much for U.S. military members and veterans, while President Joe Biden has been disrespectful.

That’s nonsense.

Any good that veterans received during Trump’s term in office came from others’ efforts and in spite of — not because of — Trump. Most people’s actions are prompted by what they think and feel. In Trump’s case, he has never felt or shown respect for the U.S. military or its veterans. He has thought only of how he could use them for his own purposes.

Lest nostalgia for Trump’s presidency obscure the facts, let me remind you of several:

  • When running for president in January 2016, Trump skipped a Republican presidential debate for a “fundraiser” for veterans. Although he received roughly $5 million in donations and pledged an extra $1 million of his own cash, he sent the money to veterans’ charities months later only after investigative reporters revealed he had not donated the funds. Trump was fined $2 million by a judge for deceptive practices tied to the event.
  • As president, he canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018. Although he falsely claimed his helicopter could not fly in the rain and the Secret Service couldn’t drive him there, the truth was that keeping his hair dry was more important than honoring American war dead, as reported by The Atlantic. Trump reportedly told staffers, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” Losers? Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice are losers?
  • During that same trip, he also told senior staffers that the nearly 2,000 U.S. Marines who were killed at the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood were “suckers” for getting killed. American Marines, whose motto “Semper Fi” means “always faithful,” are not suckers when dying for their country.

This is what he thinks of the honorable men and women who sacrifice their bodies, family time, and even their lives for an American cause greater than themselves.

But Trump doesn’t, and never will, understand how a person can be true to an ideal for which he does not receive a financial reward in return. On Memorial Day 2017, while standing in front of the grave of 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, the son of Gen. John Kelly who died in Afghanistan in 2010, Trump turned to Gen. Kelly and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”

Trump was similarly mystified why U.S. flags should be lowered to half-staff after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., died, saying the “guy was a f—ng loser.”

Loser? He spent five long years in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war, after being shot down while carrying out a bombing run against a heavily defended target. When offered early release as a gesture to his father, Adm. John McCain, he refused, because honorable American service members do not accept special treatment from the enemy. Trump would have accepted early release in a heartbeat, if he had served in Vietnam, which he didn’t, because he dodged the draft with a deferment for Schrodinger’s bone spurs. The family of the doctor who provided the diagnosis said he likely made it up as a favor to Trump’s father.

Despite attending a military prep school, Trump has been contemptuous since high school of U.S. military discipline, traditions, and the idea of service to country. His anti-military contempt has continued for decades. Not only did he mock McCain for being captured, he also mocked Gold Star families before and after his first 2016 presidential campaign. During his time in office, Trump didn’t even want to be seen with veteran amputees, because “it doesn’t look good for me,” The Atlantic reported, or to have disabled veterans participate in a patriotic parade because “nobody wants to see that.” More ominously, Trump stated that certain high-ranking military members, with decades of service to our country, should be executed for treason because they disagreed with his political positions. This is not a person who has the interests of U.S. military members and veterans at heart.

Any good that helped American veterans while Trump was in office did not spring from his love of the military, was not his administration’s idea, and was developed by a combination of efforts by congressional staffers, veterans service organizations, and concerned officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But President Biden has been concerned with military members and veterans for decades. His late son, an Army officer, died of cancer that the president believes came from his exposure to chemicals in wartime burn pits. That loss has driven a very personal commitment to the welfare of military members. While serving as president, Biden has signed more than two dozen laws that benefit military members and veterans, including the PACT Act, which expanded the benefits and services for service members and veterans exposed to toxic chemicals.

Working with partners in Congress, Biden’s administration also expanded access to health care and child care; improved long-term medical care; took steps to curtail veteran homelessness (and asked Congress to triple its housing vouchers to needy veterans); lowered health care costs for World War II veterans; and expanded support to military suicide prevention programs by community-based organizations (and established the 988 Veterans Crisis Line).

This is in addition to ensuring the VA improved its medical appointments, veteran disability claim processing times, and delivered record benefits to veterans. Moreover, Biden also established a task force to help protect military members and their families against financial fraudsters and signed an executive order consisting of multiple actions designed to improve post-military employment access and increase transition assistance to military spouses.

Biden has demonstrated his commitment to service members and veterans’ welfare throughout his distinguished decades of public service. His reelection would genuinely benefit military members and veterans. Trump has shown only contempt.

— Ronald Lackey is a retired major who served for 17 years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force and reserves with units assigned to NORAD, Tactical Air Command, Air Force Intelligence Agency, Air Force Special Operations and Air Force Search and Rescue. He was medically retired due to service in Operation Desert Shield/Storm, going on to serve 22 years in various local, state and federal law enforcement analysis positions, including federal counterdrug and counterterrorism task forces, and five years at the Arizona Counterterrorism Information Center. 

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