Addressing a crowd gathered at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., President Obama on Memorial Day described the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War a “national disgrace,” and thanked veterans for their service in combat.
President Obama’s remarks came on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of an American military presence in Vietnam, and the President thanked the attending veterans and their families for not “turning your backs on America, when America turned its back on you.” In the decades succeeding the war in Vietnam, unemployment among veterans of the conflict has hovered near 15 percent, according the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. President Obama also brought to light the more than 1,700 American prisoners of war still missing or presumed dead in Vietnam.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney made an appearance in San Diego during the holiday along with Vietnam veteran and Arizona Senator John McCain at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park.
In his statements Monday, Romney promised to “maintain the world’s strongest military” and specifically vowed to oppose spending cuts in the military currently under consideration in Washington. Since late last year, Congress has been seeking ways to reduce the federal budget by several billion dollars, and has proposed a number of radical cuts to the Department of Defense’s funding for military operations. On December 31, 2011, president Obama signed a military spending budget of $662 billion, several billion short of the amount requested by the Pentagon.
Romney’s criticism of the president’s military spending policy could factor in among the myriad election issues this fall. Despite reducing military spending, the bill signed by Obama at the end of last year was a far cry from the $1 trillion in automatic cuts the military will suffer if Congress fails to restructure the budget by January 2013. Those cuts were agreed upon during a deeply-partisan debate last August in Congress over the budget. Since then, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has accused Congress of “stupidly” dangling billions of military dollars in a political fight, risking thousands of military jobs and benefits.
A poll released by Gallup this week indicates that veterans prefer former Governor Romney to President Obama in the general election by a margin of 24 percent. Gallup also says that Romney’s slight favorability among the overall male electorate in 2012 is due in large part to his support from veterans. A similar poll in 2008 reported that Obama trailed senator McCain 44 percent to 54 percent prior to the election, which Obama went on to win several months later.
Despite his apparent weakness among veterans, the President and First Lady Michelle Obama have taken a number of steps to reach out to veterans and their families over the past three years. Last year, Mrs. Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden launched their Joining Forces campaign, which seeks to help the more than 2 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their families in adjusting to civilian life after soldiers return home from war. The program has brought together associations of nurses and medical professionals in taking care of wounded veterans after their military benefits have expired, including soldiers suffering from the mental effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
On March 3, 2012, president Obama announced the creation of the Veterans Job Corps. The program put $1 billion in government funds toward employing veterans on federal projects such as national parks as well as state and local administrative works. Unemployment among post-9/11 war veterans has remained near 13 percent since December of 2011, a number which the program seeks to remedy by sponsoring grants for businesses that employ combat returnees.