Presidential debate likely to include veterans' issues

Domestic issues will have stage
FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in Milwaukee. Six weeks from Election Day, President Barack Obama's campaign has momentum _ and a big case of the nerves. At the campaign's Chicago headquarters, aides are relishing in polling that gives the president an edge in key battleground states. But they also warn that there's still plenty of time for the race to change course. And even as the Democratic team considers making a late play for traditionally Republican Arizona, they know that the outcome of three presidential debates with Republican Mitt Romney could shake up their overall strategy. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Domestic issues will be the focus of tonight’s presidential debate at the Uni­versity of Denver, including the concerns of the nation’s estimated 20 million veterans.

Veterans face an increasing backlog in service claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs, 6.6 percent unemployment and a suicide rate of 18 deaths per day. According to a report from the VA inspector general in April, only 49 percent of veterans seeking mental evaluations received treatment within the recommended 14 days. The average wait time was 50 days.

A Gallup poll in May showed veterans supporting Re­pub­lican Mitt Romney over President Obama, 58 percent to 34 percent. This is the first time in 80 years that none of the candidates on the major-party tickets has a record of military service.

At home, the Obama administration points to several achievements for veterans and service members. On Aug. 31, the president signed an executive order to expand the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line by 50 percent. It also ordered the VA to expand the number of mental health professionals available to veterans “beyond traditional business hours.”

Obama announced a Vet­erans Job Corps in February intended to put veterans to work, but the bill creating it was blocked in the Senate last month. He was also behind the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which had prevented gay troops from serving openly.

Abroad, the Obama administration marked the end of the war in Iraq in December and promises to remove troops in Afghanistan by 2014.

On his campaign Web site, Romney promises to reform the VA by doing away with the dual health records created by active service and the VA.

This would create a “single medical record – from boot camp to retirement – to expedite and simplify a sluggish system,” the site says.

Romney has pledged to increase Navy shipbuilding and add 100,000 active-duty troops, along with bolstering missile defense systems.

Iraq and Afghanistan Vete­rans of America, a nonpartisan advocacy group, suggests a checklist of items veterans should keep when vetting their candidates.

Some of its important agenda items are: translating military skills into civilian certifications and licenses; “aggressive” public outreach to enroll more veterans in VA services; and improving the disability claims process.

Jim Lorraine, the executive director of the Augusta War­rior Project, said veterans should examine both candidates’ records for their plans to address unemployment and continue veteran programs.

“It’s going to take a leader that can make the executive branch work with the House and Senate,” Lorraine said.

THE DEBATE

ON TV: The first of three presidential debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney is scheduled for 9-10:30 tonight. It will be broadcast live on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, along with C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. An estimated 50 million viewers are expected to tune in.

THE FORMAT: The debate will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each. The first three segments will focus on the economy, and the last three on health care, the role of government and governing.


LOCAL EVENTS:

• The Richmond County Democratic Party will hold a debate-watching party at its headquarters, 1101 Greene St. Doors open at 6 p.m.

• Paine College students will hold a debate-watching party at the Peters Campus Center, beginning at 9 p.m.

– From staff
and wire reports

ON TWITTER

Use #augreacts to
be included in The Augusta Chronicle’s social media coverage of the debate. Follow @AUG_Chronicle on Twitter for live updates.

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