When my grandkids ask me about what the Trump era was like, there are so many bizarre moments to live through that it’ll be hard to pick just a few.
There will be one, though, that I’ll tell them about. It came a few months into his first campaign, when President Donald Trump held an event he said would raise money for veterans. He took the stage, and claimed to have raised $6 million for charities, including $1 million of his own money. There was just one problem: There was no real check, and no money donated. Reporters had to hound him and his campaign before he’d cough up donations, months later.
Now Trump is running for president again, making the same claims that no one’s done more for our troops than him. And when Vice President Mike Pence visits VMI this week, he’ll probably say the same. But behind those boasts are missing checks and broken promises to our nation’s veterans and military families. In fact, he regards those who’ve given their lives for our country as “suckers” and “losers.”
As a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve seen fellow service members struggle when they get home. Outside of my work as a delegate, I help run a small business that advises the government to ensure veterans have access to quality healthcare. As a delegate, I’ve fought to give 100%-disabled veterans a tax break on their vehicles and to ensure that servicemembers can participate in selecting their parties’ nominee. Our country’s veterans deserve a commander in chief who values their service and will look out for them.
Our men and women in uniform don’t think of themselves as heroes. They signed up to do the job of keeping our country safe – a dangerous job and a vitally important one. And like any job, they want a good boss: one who keeps promises and respects the people below them.
Donald Trump hasn’t been a good boss for our service members and veterans. His administration has stolen funds from our military to pay for his pet projects. We knew that if Trump tried to build a wall, Mexico wouldn’t be paying for it. We didn’t expect Trump to divert billions of dollars from counternarcotics and military construction funds to try to build it. The Pentagon warned that doing this would cause “dire outcomes” that would put troops’ lives at risk, but he plowed ahead.
He’s demoralized and degraded our servicemembers, using them as a political prop at the border when they should have been at home with their families and threatening to march them into American cities to “defend” against civilian protesters. And in the midst of a global pandemic, the Veterans Administration is chronically understaffed because Trump has refused to fill key positions. The VA currently faces nearly 50,000 vacancies often in high-need areas such as clinicians who can aid in posttraumatic stress and suicide prevention. At a time when an estimated 17 veterans die by suicide every day, this is a tremendous failure.
Luckily, there’s a better option. Joe and Jill Biden watched as their son deployed to Iraq. I’m sure they spent sleepless nights sometimes, as my parents did, wondering if he’d return home safely, and sleepless nights when he did, wondering how he’d adjust back to civilian life. It’s why Jill Biden started Joining Forces, a national initiative that helped find jobs for 1.5 million veterans and military spouses and looked after their physical and mental health. It’s why Joe Biden has put out plans for veterans and for military families and ensured that we’ll be a priority, not just a talking point.
Our men and women in uniform will serve our nation no matter who’s president. But when they look at their commander-in-chief, they should see someone who deserves to meet their gaze. We don’t have that now. We will with Joe Biden.
Del. Dan Helmer, a Democrat, represents to 40th District, encompassing portions of Fairfax and Prince William Counties. He is a reserve member of the U.S. Army. Use of his military rank or job titles does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.