Tag: veterans

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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Meet Peter. Peter, a student in the School of General Studies is a Political Science Major and a veteran. He has recently been featured in various publications including the  New York Times and MSNBC for his current CrowdPac fundraiser to pressure Republican Presidential Nominee, Donald Trump, to release his taxes. We sat down with Peter to learn more about his fundraiser and ways in which students can get involved.

From your veteran’s perspective of the candidates, what are your views of the current presidential candidates?

There is a bit of a double standard in this current election cycle. Hillary has been held to a higher and separate standard than Donald Trump has which I think is problematic to our democracy. There’s a certain responsibility that the President as the Commander in Chief needs to have. As a veteran who has been to Afghanistan, this issue matters to me.

I am registered as an Independent voter.  I am not affiliated with either party, but trying to make up my mind as an Independent; however, Trump’s rhetoric has made it hard to be unbiased. As far as qualifications, we have a candidate who is a former Senator, former Secretary of State, and who is about as experienced as a candidate that we’ve ever seen and then we have someone else who is a celebrity.

I’m more about transparency. Ronald Reagan, who is a Republican, has a great quote: “Trust, but verify.” When it comes to a lot of Trump’s claims, I like it but I want to verify it. I’d really like to trust you Donald Trump, but I also want to verify it, so let’s release your tax returns.

Donald has done a great job about raising veteran’s issues by speaking incorrectly about them. In contrast, I don’t think that that’s the focus of my campaign; my goal is not to raise awareness, but to donate money to veterans charities. I want to use the political process to benefit veterans and reverse the system on itself.

What motivated you to start your fundraiser to pressure Trump into releasing his taxes?

This year at the Intrepid Museum, Trump and Clinton were questioned on veterans and their roles as a Commander in Chief. It was not a debate, but it was half an hour each to answer questions about military and foreign policy. I attended and I also got 15 other Columbia veterans to attend as well and we were pretty frustrated at the event because of the questions. Hillary got questioned for 10 minutes straight about her emails but when it came to Trump, nothing about his tax returns or his conflicts of interests with our national security came up, which to me is the biggest questions to ask a potential Commander in Chief.

Out of frustration from that event, I was inspired to start this campaign. The way it works is that you pledge money, but you will only get charged if the conditions of the fundraiser are met. The website [CrowdPac] was originally created for people running for office. Donors would only get charged once a candidate officially announced that he or she was running for office. I decided there was a unique way in which we could use this to make Donald Trump release his tax returns.

Trump claims to support veterans and even used them as an excuse to skip the last Republican Primary debate in January. He instead decided to do a fundraiser for veterans, because he claimed that veterans are so important that we need to raise money for them. Well if that’s true, I’ve raised 6 million dollars, which is more money than he had raised and it’s almost easier for him to donate this money; he just needs to release his taxes.

It’s important that he release his tax returns, especially if Trump has business interests or outstanding debts to a foreign country. Let’s say it’s Russia. Let’s say Trump owes Russian companies millions of dollars; if we as a country get into conflict or declare war with Russia, he would be absolved of his debts. There’s no reason for him to pay money to a country we’re at war with. This happens with every war and that to me is dangerous. That’s a direct conflict of interest with the country and our foreign policy and his business interests. His failure to release his tax returns is telling about him as a person and his potential Presidency.

People use veterans for props. I decided that being a Political Science student studying the campaign finance system, this would be a clever way to divert some of the money going to corporation’s profits to charities instead.

How did you react when Reid Hoffman (the Chairman of LinkedIn) pledged to quintuple all donations? 

Reid Hoffman pledged to quintuple the money we raised up to a million dollars, so a total of 5 million dollars. We were able to meet the goal and the money has been added. The fundraiser is now at over 6.2 million dollars.

After the Commander in Chief forum, I had an appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show. I made an appearance and I guess he saw me on Twitter announcing my CrowdPac campaign and decided to support it; ever since them we have gotten a lot of publicity.

This campaign has done a great job speaking on veterans issues by being incorrect about them. My goal is to send money to groups that can help. There are a lot of things our government does well, but non-profits can help them. I want to use the political system to help veterans.

Do you think Trump will release his taxes? Why do you think he has yet to release them?

I genuinely hope he does. I don’t understand how the campaign would let Mike Pence release his for 10 years yet Trump would not. I’m probably the last optimistic person on this planet that thinks he might release his tax returns. Considering that the reports out of the New York Times are not endearing, you would think he would release his tax returns to change the narrative. The fact that he hasn’t suggests he has something to hide and that’s deeply concerning.

How do you recommend students get involved? 

The biggest thing is if you don’t have money to donate, share the campaign with people who do. Share it on your social media and help get the word out. We’ve reached $6.2 million and I’d love to reach $10 million by October 19th. With every dollar raised, there’s that much more pressure on Trump to release his tax returns. And now instead of rewarding Trump for doing something he already should have, there is a benefit for veterans. And it also means that there’s now an explicit cost to not releasing them. Now if he doesn’t release them, it will have cost veterans 6 million dollars. Clearly those tax returns are worth something.

Anything else?

Get out and vote. This is why we have fall break. Get out to vote.

I don’t speak for all veterans nor anyone else in the military, but I think that ’s it. Every president since Nixon has released his tax returns. Why shouldn’t Trump? We can’t let him get by this double standard.

To support Peter’s CrowdPac fundraiser, click here.

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