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Veterans Criticize Empty Pledges Of Support By Republican Candidates


America's military veterans have been pushed to the front of the Republican presidential campaign. There's that Donald Trump rally in Iowa tonight which he says will support Wounded Warriors. At the same time, a super PAC supporting Ted Cruz offered to donate $1.5 million to veterans' charities if Trump agrees to a one-on-one debate with Sen. Cruz. Carly Fiorina upped the ante. She offered $2 million to a veterans cause on the condition that Trump agree to a debate.

Well, we reached out to Tim Hsia for his perspective on all this. He attended West Point and served in Iraq with the Army and is a co-founder of the nonprofit Service 2 School. They help veterans applying to college. Tim, welcome to the program.

TIM HSIA: Hi. Thank you.

CORNISH: Tim, what do you make of all of these different pledges, you know, as we get into the home stretch of voting in Iowa?

HSIA: I think it's really dodging the issues of what's really impacting veterans, and a handout to a veteran organization isn't the same as crafting a thoughtful policy around what are the issues facing veterans and what they would do if elected on day one for veterans.

CORNISH: You're calling it a handout, but you know, there are lots of nonprofits that serve veterans that maybe could use this money. I mean, is there some benefit to this?

HSIA: There's benefit in that it's bringing awareness to veterans' issues, and if it's given to a veteran organization that's going to thoughtfully use that funding to help veterans, then that's great. But I think the absence of real substance of discussion at the debates is very observable for many people who care about veteran issues.

CORNISH: You know, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff, has said that he wouldn't take Trump's money. He tweeted, we need strong policies from candidates not to be used for political stunts, similar to what you're saying here. But you know, you run a much smaller nonprofit. Would you consider taking money under these circumstances?

HSIA: I think what my organization and the veterans we support - what we would really want these candidates to do is discuss how they're going to help veteran access to higher education, which is the place we play a big role in, and that's, what are the things we need to fix with the G.I. bill? And there's been more than $20 billion spent within the G.I. bill. Giving, you know, some money to an organization is a pittance in comparison to this larger policy of, how do we use the G.I. bill; how do we use it in a way that helps veterans get into top schools and help them with their transition?

CORNISH: Tim, you know, as I listen to candidates stump speeches, I do hear them talk about veterans broadly. They criticize the way veterans' issues have been handled by the current administration, especially on the Republican side. As you watch the campaign, what do you make of the way candidates have been talking about veterans' issues? Do you see it as enough, specifics?

HSIA: Well, if we want to point at a specific event, I think when Donald Trump attacked Sen. McCain's record, I think that it's one thing to say you care about veterans, and then it's another to attack someone who many veterans think of as a war hero. And maybe there's been policy statements and also discussions around what they would do with the VA and what they would do with addressing suicide rate amongst veterans and veteran unemployment, but I don't think there's even been times set aside in any of the debates around what are the issues and ways that they would fix these issues facing veterans right now.

CORNISH: That's Tim Hsia. He's an Army veteran and has served in Iraq. He's also a co-founder of the nonprofit Service 2 School. Thanks so much, Tim.

HSIA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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