In Swing States, Military Veterans' Concerns Loom Large

veterans issues military jobs

By Thomas Beaumont

NORFOLK, Va. -- The far-flung swing states that have the most sway in the presidential election have something else in common -- a large share of military veterans who are getting special attention from the fiercely dueling campaigns.

In a White House campaign this hard-fought, no interest group can be ignored. But veterans are an especially prized group since so many live in battleground states -- including Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.

Backing those who have served the country also sends a feel-good patriotic message to the electorate at large. And although veterans traditionally lean Republican, both candidates see an opening to win over veterans this year.

The next president will face U.S. troops returning from Afghanistan and a continuing budget crisis with veterans benefits under scrutiny.

Navy veteran Rob Meurer fears for his own livelihood at a northern Virginia aerospace manufacturer if military spending cuts are enacted during a second administration for President Barack Obama. Defense cuts "could devastate our military and our business," Meurer said.

More: New Hope For Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injuries

At the other end of the state, Hampton Roads area Air Force veteran Lawrence Ewing fears the quality of his health care will suffer should the government privatize benefits under Republican Mitt Romney.

"We simply cannot afford cuts to the VA," Ewing said.

The candidates are reaching out to veterans in all nine of the most competitive states as part of a system of targeting voters by specific backgrounds and lifestyle. Veterans account for about 17 percent of registered voters nationally, but more than that in most of the battleground states. It's a predominantly male voting bloc, one with a high propensity to register and turn out, which could help Romney offset Obama's edge among female voters.

Florida has the most with 1.6 million veterans -- one-fifth of the state's registered voters -- as well as nearly 30 military bases or installations. Among the battleground states, Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado and North Carolina also run higher than average, and have varying combinations of bases, military academies and veterans' centers.

But nowhere is the fight over the military vote more apparent than in Virginia, the home of 822,000 veterans. Many live in the shadow of Norfolk Naval Station, the world's largest naval base. The sprawling complex has a population the size of Orlando, Fla., and is the economic magnet of Tidewater region.

Reminders of the military's dominance are everywhere in the Norfolk area. Fighter jets roar above rows of imposing warships docked in Hampton Roads Harbor.

It is also home to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in nearby Portsmouth, the Navy's largest industrial installation. And Virginia has production facilities for a long list of military contractors such as General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, who together employ hundreds of thousands in the state.

More: Top Employers Near Military Bases

Romney promotes a military buildup and links Obama with a deficit-reduction plan supported by Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress that would cut military spending and cost potentially thousands of defense industry jobs. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, also voted for the cuts as laid out in the "sequestration" that lawmakers passed during the summer 2011 budget deal.

Romney says GOP lawmakers made a mistake in supporting the plan. Obama too has vowed that the automatic cuts will not take place.

"Nothing is more important than keeping America strong, and you hear it in Romney," said Bob Anderson, a retired Navy veteran from Milburn in northern Virginia.

Romney and Obama are running neck and neck in Virginia, a state Obama carried in 2008 and which Romney needs to reach the electoral threshold.

More: 4 Challenges Facing Military Veterans And How To Overcome Them

"Unlike cutting the military as this president would do by a trillion dollars, I will instead maintain our military strength because that is because America's military must be second to none and so strong that no one would ever test us," Romney said last week at a rally in Leesburg, Va.

Romney also accuses Obama of doing too little to expedite the backlog of claims for disability, pension and educational benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs. That criticism echoes through a Virginia Beach Republican phone bank, where veterans and their spouses volunteer.
"Veterans always found more for us. We need to find more for them," said Elizabeth Blackley, a veteran wife and Virginia Beach volunteer.

Overall, veterans' issues don't even crack the top 10 in national polls of campaign priorities, where the federal budget deficit, health care, terrorism and illegal immigration run far behind jobs.

The veteran vote has hardly been a bellwether in recent elections.

In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war, beat Obama, who has no military experience, by 10 percentage points among voters who said they had served in the military, according to exit polls. Republican President George W. Bush in 2004 won 57 percent of voters who said they had served, compared to 41 percent for Democrat John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. Bush had served in the Texas Air National Guard.

Romney, who has no military service, led Obama among active duty military and veterans, 59 to 37, in a national Gallup poll taken this month.

Although trailing with veterans overall, Obama leads among younger and minority veterans.
The president points to winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, increasing the budget for the VA and enacting programs aimed at providing veterans with education, employment and housing.

"When our troops come home and take off their uniform, we will serve them as well as they've served us -- because if you fought for this country, you shouldn't have to fight for a job or a roof over your heard when you come home," Obama said last month in Miami.

Obama's outreach in specific niches of veterans that reflect his overall appeal are seen as keys to keeping Romney at bay in Colorado, Florida and Nevada.

"The veterans' community is not monolithic," Obama's veteran outreach coordinator Rob Diamond said.

Obama's team has in turn criticized Romney for suggesting last year that he was open to allowing a private-insurance voucher system for veterans' health care.

That suggestion so troubled Vietnam veteran Ed Meagher of Great Falls, Va., that he began volunteering for the Obama campaign. The retired VA administrator now leads Obama's campaign outreach for veterans in northern Virginia.

"I tell fellow vets, if you're willing to say vets should be willing to take cuts like everyone else, I just have a big problem with that," said Meagher. "That's a violation, and it's dishonorable."

Veterans React To Debate - Election 2012: What Veterans Want

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Well if the Military men and woman think Obama is going to do anything for them - they need to look at his history.. This is one time I hope I am wrong.. Thank you to all the business' people for putting forth an extra effort to help these brave men and woman .

March 29 2013 at 9:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Criminals in our jails get free everything, even a sex change operation - something is very wrong here. Vets should get the same healthcare the criminals get!

March 29 2013 at 8:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

With all the talk about todays \"Returning Warriors\", a growing number of us \"other\" Vets are falling through the cracks. I was diagnosed as having glaucoma. I live about 90 miles from the VA Fresno and do not drive. To \"cut costs\" the AmVets have made a central pick-up point for transportation to the facility. Too bad it is 20 miles down the mountain from where I, and about 25 other Vets live. Calls to the VA to correct this problem met with, \"I have other, more important folders on my desk.\" from the Patients Advocate there. Tell that to my nieghbor Dorrel. A 92 year old Vet that died this month from complications because he wasn\'t \"as important\" as the other folders on the desk, or the millions being spent into prettying up the VA Fresno Facility.

March 29 2013 at 2:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My heart goes to US veterans who have defended this great country. Our leader should have compassion for them, listen to them and take action to help them.God bless America.

March 29 2013 at 12:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pat Ron IBK ZB

you're 45 years too late for me, and that's irritating' but what can ya' do. 3 years ago somebody came up to me a offered a handshake to say thanks . As he frist approched me, in my head i knew i was gonna have to hit him. Then he said thanks. I was pretty doumbfounded, Totally. The people comin' home now, i feel bad for them, they haven't realized how bad it is HERE, In Country. I'll still ware my hat + pen. But i don't think I'll ever find my way Home. God Bless The U.S.A. & The 2nd. Admendment to the Consitution of The United States of America. We'll need 'em soon enough.

March 28 2013 at 8:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Tricare will absolutely take a hit if insurance is privatized. Conservative politicians used to be strong supporters of our men and women in the military, but that has changed drastically over the years. Just look at the cuts that were made to military members and their families in the 8 years Bush was president...

March 28 2013 at 8:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a vet, want to be able to buy a gun or a rifle with any nazi control, thats what i want!!!!

March 28 2013 at 5:39 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Husband is a disabled veteran. Been trying for almost 5 years now to get increase in benefits. VA doctors do anything and everything to disprove claims. Home of 17+ years auctioned off 2 weeks ago while claim was supposed to be on fast track after submitting paperwork showing home was in foreclosure and just received letter stating sorry for any inconvenience while claim is being looked at. If you want to help call Emigrant bank aat (212) 850- 4000 and tell them how shameful and disgusting the way they foreclosed on a disabled veteran. \"They fought to save your home who will help them save theirs\"

March 28 2013 at 1:17 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AJ's comment

Want attention? your local news channel.....and write your every time.Let your bank show a real face behind the name..they'll have too.

March 28 2013 at 12:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to abrath8793's comment

The story above must be at least a year old. They are talking about the 2012 election. We need to think about the 2014 election and get the Senate changed.

March 28 2013 at 2:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

wont work because this bank owner has the politicians in his pocket since he contributes much$ to their campaigns and he mostly owns the new york time. He gave Cuomo $100,000 toward his campaign and got a very good job from it.

March 28 2013 at 6:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

Our elected government officials are the one's that don't seem to care about veterans care. My congress person was absolutly wortless in helping me. The cubicle workers do give a rats-ass either! They can send a letter saying they are working on your file, then why can't the take care of it??? Turn the rating process over to MasterCard, they would get it done! Privitize the whole system.

March 28 2013 at 1:07 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Democrats' track record: tear away at military benefits and programs, branded returning veterans as "potential terrorts (Napalitano), inject billions of dollars in earmarks and refuse to cut them from the budget, then when elections come around they show up on bases for "photo ops" and claim they support our military....

Democrats' attacks on Constitutional rights and favoring social program scammers and lawbreakers over national defense will NOT go unnoticed in 2014 mid-term elections.

March 28 2013 at 12:26 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Keith's comment

Where are you getting your information??? WOW

March 28 2013 at 12:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Really? Because my husband is a disabled veteran, and he is all for Obama. Here's why: he returned from the war in poor shape, no job, nothing to look forward to. Obama signed the Veteran's skills to jobs Act in 2012, and looked to expand the vets to feds program (which House republicans knocked down) as well as Veterans benefits. My husband was able to get into a federal program to train him for a job with the VA, and we are now doing very well. Obama supported the expansion of these programs due to the large number of vets returning and not being able to find work. If you look into the issues a bit, you'll see that those that "claim" to support our military and vets, have vetoed every bill that would be beneficial to those that need it most.

March 28 2013 at 6:34 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

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