If you watched the Presidential debate on November 1st, one of the issues raised was the question of Syria. From the greatest humanitarian disaster since World War II to the rise of a terrorist state, Syria seems to be the nexus of ills. Given the seriousness of the situation, politicians and military leaders are considering military action in Syria, from Hillary Clinton’s no fly zone to Donald Trump’s yet to be announced strategy to take down ISIS. For most of us, these are abstract things we discuss rhetorically when discussing American military strength. For over four hundred students, this is a well-lived reality. If you are veteran attending Columbia today, you probably served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, two of the longest wars in American history. You also have the privilege, like Vietnam veterans, of realizing that the public believes the war in Iraq was pointless and seeing those gains fall so easily to ISIS. After that, statistically, veterans tend to support candidates who don’t have a history of hawkishness, like Gary Johnson or Donald Trump.
On the bright side, when veterans return home, they rightly have an expectation that they will be treated with respect. They risk their lives for their country and their country should give back. One of the ways we as a nation rewarded their service was the GI Bill. Passed during World War II, it gave veterans returning home assistance in paying for college and trade school tuition. We passed an extension to this to apply for veterans of engagements after 9/11. You would think this would be uncontroversial, but Donald Trump complicates everything. In May of this year, he said to CNN that he doesn’t support the GI Bill. While there was one time where the Republican Congress tried to shift funds from one GI Bill benefit to support other veterans programs, usually Republicans stop after suggesting the privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs. For those unfamiliar, the Department of Veterans Affairs oversees the Veterans Health Administration which should handle healthcare once veterans get past the very deep backlog. If you are wondering, the VA’s website states “VA health care is NOT considered a health insurance plan” which one would need to not be forced to pay for Columbia’s insurance. This is all simple with the Democrats in that they have thrown their support behind the GI Bill and against privatization, but I honestly was surprised I was covering this difference at all. Usually serving veterans is bipartisan except for the tiny details. In 2015, nearly two-thirds of veterans opposed privatization of the VA in a bipartisan poll. If veterans have spoken, and we love them, why is this a debate?
Of course, I generalize. There are over 400 opinions on campus that are much more valuable than mine on these things. They can provide perspectives more grounded in reality than a first-year. But Republicans have touched the GI Bill before. If Donald Trump wins, they might change a few things here and there. That might affect people who attend this university, and therefore I felt that not saying when there is a significant difference on approaches would be a disservice, because those of us who haven’t gone to war still have to vote on Tuesday.
Ufon’s mini-series, Columbia and the 2016 Election, will run through the November 8th Presidential Elections.
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