House speaker John Boehner spent his Memorial Day weekend at a funeral for an Ohio solider killed in Afghanistan, solemnly attending the services and weeping at the end, during the playing of taps.
Boehner’s respect for the military sacrifice is admirable. Unfortunately, his apparent feelings are not borne out by his voting record. In recent years, Boehner’s Republican caucus in the House of Representatives has taken several votes this year that are substantive insults to veterans and active duty members of the military. The GOP has long enjoyed voters’ trust as the political party most likely to defend the armed services—but the facts tell a different story.
Most of the recent measures taken in Washington to help veterans aim to protect them from the economic crisis. Unemployment and foreclosure no doubt touch many Americans. But many veterans spent much of the past decade fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, only to re-enter civilian life as the economy bottomed out. They faced an even steeper uphill battle than most, often struggling with injury, mental stress, or at the very least, many years out of the country and away from the job market.
Accordingly, lawmakers offered a wide range of bills to assist recent veterans—and Republicans opposed nearly all of them.
Foreclosure in particular has been a problem. Over the past two years, unscrupulous lenders have been improperly foreclosing on military members’ property, often while a solider was serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Other times, soldiers would be foreclosed upon while recovering from a serious injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The foreclosure rate in military towns is four times higher than the national average, and the rate of foreclosure within ten miles of a military facility rose 217 percent between 2007 and 2009. Near the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, the foreclosure rate jumped 414 percent.
The House member who represents that district, Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), saw what should have been clear to all policymakers—while many Americans were in need of help from the federal government in fighting off foreclosure, military members were particularly stressed. He offered a measure that would offer emergency mortgage relief formembers of the armed services. Republicans killed the bill on a party-line vote.
In February, Republicans passed a budget bill that slashed $75 million that would have funded housing vouchers for homeless veterans. Republicans claim that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs the program, has unused vouchers and so the cuts were fiscally responsible. There’s some truth to the unused vouchers claim; just over 2,400 went unassigned. That’s a bipartisan failure in a country where 136,000 go homeless at some point during every year, but Republican cuts are hardly a solution.