DEBATE QUESTIONS: With 23 Million Veterans’ Votes at Stake, Vets Watching Tonight’s Presidential Debate Hoping For Answers: Are Vets’ Issues Even a Priority? Will Either Man Deliver Plans to End the Suicide Epidemic? Does Obama, Romey or the Nation Really Truly Care About Them?

With a population of about 23 million, veterans around the world are waiting for their moment of truth. Do they matter? Tonight’s presidential debate is expected to answer the questions about how President Obama and Mitt Romney feel about the critical issues impacting generations of men and women who have donned a uniform and carried a rifle to support and defend the constitution. Top issues facing America’s veterans — as outlined in a recently-published voting guide developed by the veterans lobby group IAVA — include: 6,500 annual suicides by VA patients, 365 annual suicides by service members, broken mental health care policies at VA and DoD, veterans’ unemployment rates, 1 million backlogged VA benefits claims, unpaid education benefits from the post-9/11 GI Bill and deficient VA aftercare resources for women. (Politico)

Veterans Angle for an Overdue Shout Out During Tonight’s Debate

by Bill Briggs
NBC News, Oct. 3, 2012

A leading veterans group, seeking to muscle any mention of military issues into the first presidential debate, published an online voter guide Tuesday listing five criteria on which service members past and present can judge the two candidates and ultimately cast their votes. 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonpartisan and nonprofit group with more than 200,000 members, released “Vote Smart For Vets” on its website with hopes that its five stated benchmarks — along with some mathematical prodding — will prompt Republican candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama to tangle on topics that include the military suicide epidemic or the high veteran unemployment rate.

“Thank you for your service,” is not enough.

— Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, voting guide

“Our goal is to obviously make progress on these issues but also just to get the candidates talking about them,” said Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer and founder of IAVA. “We get a lot of pandering. We get a lot of pleasantries. We get a lot of ceremony. But let’s get down to specifics.

“We’re trying to force just a conversation of any kind (about veterans) when economic issues are front and center,” added Rieckhoff, who served as a first lieutenant and infantry rifle platoon leader in Iraq during 2003 and 2004. 

The five-point checklist drafted by the IAVA for veterans and vet-friendly voters “to evaluate your candidates’ platforms” is placed in this order:  

• Ensuring Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have the tools they need to succeed in the civilian work force;

• Ensuring every veteran has the right to the education benefits they have earned;

• Improving mental health programs in the military and VA to prevent further suicides among troops and veterans;

• Modernizing the claims process at the VA so that veterans have access to the benefits and resources they have earned;

• Improving VA healthcare facilities and claims processes for female veterans. 

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