War & Peace

Your Turn: Why Do Veterans Support Donald Trump?

Many military vets wrote in to say they absolutely do not support Trump, and are afraid that he would put our troops in more danger.

Your Turn: Why Do Veterans Support Trump?

US army soldiers stand in formation during a joint military tactical training exercise Blowback 2016 with Bulgaria's army at Novo Selo military ground on April 11, 2016. (Photo by Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images)

In a recent post, Why Do Veterans Support Donald Trump?, Michael T. McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, examines the popularity of the presumptive GOP nominee among former members of the military.

A number of veterans wrote in to tell us why they believe Trump would be bad for the US military, our veterans and foreign affairs in general.

McPhearson, who fought in Iraq during the first Gulf War, cites a recent Morning Consult poll of veterans – and voters who belong to veteran households – that show Trump leading his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, by 9 percentage points.

We received close to 1,500 comments, many by military veterans passionately distancing themselves from Trump. Here’s an example of the general tone of those comments, by veteran Rodney Barnes, who says he served in the Navy in the 1980s: “I wouldn’t vote Trump with a gun to my head.”

The most popular Facebook comment is from Lewis Chasalow, who agrees with McPhearson’s analysis that veterans support Trump for the same reason many others do, because they believe he is “an outsider who can shake up the system and solve problems.”

But, Chasalow adds, “They are under the mistaken belief that any change from the status quo would be for the better. They don’t realize that his policies, to the extent that he has any, and those of the Republican Party in particular, would exacerbate the factors that have caused the issues with which they are unhappy.”

A number of people say that by supporting Trump, veterans are voting against their own self-interest, as Republican lawmakers have repeatedly voted down legislation that would have helped veterans.

For example, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, would have created, expanded and improved a wide variety of health-care and benefit services for veterans and their families, at a cost of $21 billion over 10 years.

It would have restored cost of living increases for future military retiree pensions and expanded health care by the Department of Veteran Affairs. But the landmark legislation, widely embraced by veterans’ groups, as well as those advocating for disabled veterans, was killed by Senate Republicans.

[On Wednesday, two years after the so-called wait-list scandal, a congressionally mandated commission released a new report concluding that there are “many profound deficiencies” at the Veterans Health Administration that “require urgent reform.”]

Gwenn Murry adds that veterans “should watch Trump making fun of the disabled,” referring to his mocking of a New York Times reporter with a physical disability. There are 3.8 million disabled vets in the US today.

Trump is totally unqualified to lead this country and cannot be trusted with the nuclear codes!

— Scott Christensen, Vietnam vet

Trump’s propensity to mock also angers Mark Hervey. “They don’t remember what he said about Sen. John McCain,” he says, referring to Trump’s statement that McCain was “not a war hero,” adding that he likes “people who weren’t captured.”

McCain, a former Navy pilot, was tortured during the five years he spent in a notorious North Vietnamese prison. “Trump never served a day and had the nerve to say something like that about a true war hero,” Hervey says.

Many veterans and their spouses told us they support Sanders and “everything he has done for veteran benefits,” as Toni Mikel puts it. As always there are vocal supporters and detractors of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Some, like Bridgette Wagner Jones say it’s a “no-brainer” that Clinton doesn’t have more support from veterans: She “adheres to a hawkish set of foreign-policy principles.” [Note: For more specifics, see NPR’s reports on the foreign-policy approaches of Clinton, Sanders and Trump.]

Others, like William Pappas, bring up Clinton’s significant foreign-policy experience vis-a-vis Trump. “Clinton has government service, been a senator, secretary of state and party to many military negotiations and global strategy. She knows and understands the US military 1 million times more than Trump.”

In particular, a number of people fear a President Trump with control over America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Scott Christensen, who says he’s a vet of the Vietnam era, says: “I consider him a loose cannon, lying, con artist, draft-dodging chicken hawk who is totally unqualified to lead this country and cannot be trusted with the nuclear codes!”

Deckbose believes Trump directly puts military personnel in danger because he advocates torture. Trump has long been a fan of waterboarding, and following last month’s deadly attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, said America had to “do things that are unthinkable” when it comes to prisoner interrogation. “Trump puts every American in the military at risk of becoming victims of the same illegal practices,” Deckbose writes.

A few people, including Ralph Lewis, who says he’s also a vet, support the presumptive GOP nominee. “If Trump does half of what he says, it will be an improvement over what we have had for the last eight years.”

That of course is always the question: Will an elected official fulfill the promises he or she made as a candidate? To see the candidates’ plans for veterans, visit their respective websites: Clinton, Sanders and Trump.

Karin Kamp

Karin Kamp is a multimedia journalist and producer. She has produced content for BillMoyers.com, NOW on PBS and WNYC public radio and worked as a reporter for Swiss Radio International. She also helped launch The Story Exchange, a site dedicated to women's entrepreneurship.