In a speech at an American Legion hall in Springfield, Virginia, Mitt Romney tied the rising number of veteran suicides to the legislative battle over cuts to the defense budget.
“We have huge numbers of our men and women that are returning from conflict, that are seeking counseling, psychological counseling, and can’t find that counseling within our system. And, of course, record numbers of suicides. This is a crisis!” Romney declared.
“Given the needs of our veterans, how in the world, as commander-in-chief, you could stand by as we shrink our military commitment financially is something that I don’t understand, and I will reverse it,” he added.
Video of Romney’s comments is below, via Buzzfeed:
Romney’s attempt to link military suicides to the Obama administration is deeply problematic for a number of reasons.
First, veterans’ health care is exempt from the sequestration deal that Romney is attacking. The Obama administration is not abandoning veterans’ needs, as Romney charges.
In fact, the administration has actually been an active advocate for veterans’ care. In August, President Obama signed an executive order directing the Veterans Administration to hire 1,600 new mental health professionals and 800 new peer support counselors, along with expanding the capacity of its crisis line to ensure that veterans in need can meet with a counselor within 24 hours. Furthermore, the Department of Veterans Affairs has seen its budget increase in each year of Obama’s presidency.
By contrast, Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan’s budget plan would cut the VA budget by $11 billion. Ryan also voted for the very same defense cuts that Romney criticized today (although he now tries to deny it.)
Romney himself has even expressed support for converting veterans’ health care into a voucher system, which would surely leave many veterans unable to afford essential care.
Additionally, Romney’s credibility when it comes to our troops’ well-being is rather undercut by his declaration in November that “the withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq by the end of this year is an enormous mistake, and failing by the Obama administration…it’s more than unfortunate, I think it’s tragic.”
Romney is correct: the mental well-being of American veterans is a crisis. By crassly using that crisis as a political football, however, he opens himself up to a debate about who really stands for veterans — and it’s a debate that he really does not want to have.