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Denis McDonough is the Veterans Affairs Secretary. He was a key adviser to Barack Obama, and then his White House Chief of Staff. McDonough knows Washington enough to understand that Veterans Day should not be used to engage in politics. When NBC News’ Courtney Kube asked him in an interview that published yesterday about right-wing radicalization among veterans, McDonough pivoted to the need to make sure those who served had “the information, access to care, benefits, services that they’ve earned” and “access to good sources of information that they need.” When asked about a COVID-19 vaccine mandate superseding religious exemptions for his massive workforce, he said he was “not gonna rush to the end of the story here.”
But he did inadvertently remind his fellow Democrats of information that may prove useful as they prepare for next year’s midterms. McDonough has previously acknowledged that the VA saw an increased demand for mental-health services after images of Afghanistan’s collapseEven veterans who were not involved in the war, it triggered them. The decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the country—and the ensuing chaos—had echoes of Vietnam for many veterans and civilians alike.“We had a 7% increase in the number of calls, texts, chats into what we call the Veteran Crisis Line,” McDonough told Kube.
Washington Examiner crunched these numbers Numerous back in August and found there were 35,000 calls to the VA’s suicide-prevention line during the two weeks it took the Taliban to take over Afghanistan. Nearly 2,600 people dialed the VA’s suicide-prevention line on the day Kabul fell.
“So if you think about the crisis that we’re dealing with, out of the summer in Afghanistan, the images from Afghanistan, the stories from Afghanistan, we did see an uptick in concern from our veterans,” McDonough said in his Minnesota-bred calmness.
Why should Democrats be concerned about it?
The withdrawal was ordered by President Joe Biden. He used the power that he has thanks to the slow, stealthy shift of younger veterans and military personnel towards the Democratic Party. They comprise an often overlooked voting bloc, but it’s a powerful one that is smart for strategists to consider. If veterans are having a mental health crisis because of Biden’s decision, that’s something he and fellow Democrats are going to have to weigh.
It may seem small, but 7 percent is a significant number. But then you have to remember that’s on top of the already huge number of Americans who are served by the VA, a massive organization that EmploysMore than 412,000 individuals will manage 1,700 health care facilities. For a comparision, see the Department of Justice Employs11.5 million to manage the FBI, AFT, and DEA while simultaneously prosecuting federal cases. While only about one-in-10 Americans are veterans, that still means there’s a 19 million-person BlocMany Americans served in uniform. The VA is their healthcare partner for life, which gives them a great insight into their thoughts and feelings.
And it’s not like the VA has a sterling reputation; it’s the third least-popular federal agency on Pew’s annual Surveywithout the consent of any government agency. Separate Pew SurveyIt was found that half of veteran veterans believe the VA does not do a good job meeting their needs. This suggests that the 7% figure is likely low as it reflects those who sought assistance from an agency known for its failings.
Polls heading into last year’s elections showed Biden LeadingActive-duty servicemembers voted for Donald Trump as the then-President. Trump’s unpopularity among military members had grown during his tenure from 37% holding an unfavorable view of the then-Commander in Chief to 50% by the pre-election period. Veterans are all the same. SurveystersTrump was the clear winner. Biden, however, was the choice of veterans younger than 55. All this worked together to help Biden to improve by 10 percentage points Democrats’ standing with veterans between 2016 2020According to exit polls, it was at 54%. Trump was still the favorite among veterans but his support dropped from 60% to 54%.
Democrats viewed the double inroads between active and retired military as a positive sign. For those who depend on central health sites to provide their care, core competency is appealing. Compared with 2012, when TIME’s Mark Thompson reportedAlthough the GOP was widely regarded as having the best uniform, this change could be a significant step towards changing the status quo. Realignmentof the Pentagon and bases, as well as ships, that corresponds to the wider shift in demographics.
Then, Biden OK’d the withdrawal from Afghanistan. That decision—whose fallout for veterans was embodied in the statistic McDonough invoked—explains why Republicans are not yet ready to write off the reliable bloc. While a narrow majority of veterans support Biden’s decision, they also say the President handled it “poorly or fairly” by an overwhelming 3-to-1 margin, according to Pew. 51% of veterans who are Democratic and those with Democratic leanings believe that Biden made mistakes.
So, when Biden marks Veterans Day, it’s worth noting how those in uniform and those at the VFW halls are feeling about the Administration right now. We may be able to learn a lot from it about what the servicemembers are going to weigh next year.
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