Election day is just three days before Veterans Day this year. The two dates are as close together as they can be. Similarly, veterans' issues have been closely aligned to the presidential campaigns. And perhaps no candidate in history has made more headlines because of his words and actions toward veterans than Donald Trump.
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has mostly brought up veterans to provide himself with cover and concealment. The former reality TV star has, over and over, used veterans as little more political props. For that, he does not deserve veterans' votes.
I've worked for years to change the way veterans are portrayed in popular culture. I've advised Hollywood and the news media to shift away from the broken veteran stereotype and instead tell stories of veterans who are leaders and assets in their communities.
In my efforts, I've seen some of the best depictions of veterans, and I've seen the worst. Sometimes negative depictions are the result of ignorance or laziness. Other times, veteran stereotypes are employed deliberately for the benefit of those creating the narrative. The Trump campaign is guilty of both, and as a veteran I find it shameful.
Mr. Trump's campaign has orchestrated numerous stunts in which veterans are used to get the candidate out of trouble. When he skipped a Fox News debate to avoid a run-in with Megyn Kelly, he used a fundraiser for veterans as the excuse. Months later, journalists discovered that the $1 million Mr. Trump claimed to have personally donated had not yet been given to charity.
In March, the Trump campaign planted a formerly homeless, ex-beauty queen Air Force veteran in the press corps so that the candidate could dramatically pull her onstage to allegedly hire her to work at his hotel. Sounds like something straight out of central casting.
Trump's veteran policies are a vague promise to "make the VA great again." His 10-point plan centers around giving himself the power to punish VA employees. There is no reference to the positive role veterans play in our society. There isn't even a mention of veterans' benefits. Perhaps that's because under his budget proposals to curb non-defense spending, Trump would begin to de-fund the VA benefits that so many former service members have earned.
In fact, Mr. Trump seems to have no purpose for veterans beyond props to distract from his latest publicity disaster. He consistently perpetuates the very worst veteran stereotypes by calling us damaged, weak, and helpless. Trump talks of veterans as if we were a lower class of Americans who were unfortunate to have served this country--an opportunity he desperately evaded on multiple occasions.
Trump's characterization of veterans is dead wrong. The truth is that veterans are better off than the average American. Veterans are more likely to be employed and earn higher salaries than civilians. Veterans volunteer and are more civically engaged than their neighbors. Most importantly, veterans are more likely to vote.
The Trump campaign is still mired in the old mythology that talking about the down-on-his-luck veteran will win points with the patriotic crowd. While Trump has polled relatively well amongst veterans, many of us who actually served see through his rhetoric and hear the insults.
Stepping back, it's evident that Trump has done more than enough to lose the respect of most veterans. Some veterans may like his brash demeanor, but those same veterans--no matter their political persuasion--aren't inclined to fall prey to his political tricks or stand for the way he insults the very people who have stood by our side and risked their lives for our country.
We will not follow a commander-in-chief who thinks boarding school counts as military service. We do not laugh when he characterizes his sexually transmitted diseases as his "personal Vietnam." We cannot accept someone who speaks ill of the family of our deceased brother-in-arms.
We will not put up with a man who shoves a Purple Heart in his pocket like any other trinket. We do not respect a man who screws up the stats on veteran suicide in a room full of veterans. We cannot vote for someone who doesn't seem to even know what the GI Bill is.
We will not tolerate a man who claims that the cause of military sexual assault is the very presence of women in military service. We do not accept a would-be President who says that prisoners of war are not heroes. We cannot allow a candidate to tell service members with PTSD that they are weak.
I don't speak for all veterans, but I hope I speak for the ones that value the integrity, loyalty, and selfless service that we embodied throughout our time in the military. Mr. Trump lacks all of these traits, and he has done nothing but treat veterans as if we are the props on one of his TV shows. So, I hope I speak for most veterans when I say that Donald Trump does not deserve our votes.
Chris Marvin is a retired Army officer and former Blackhawk helicopter pilot. A recipient of the Bronze Star, he was wounded in Afghanistan. He is the principal of Marvin Strategies and founded the "Got Your 6" media campaign.