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Will Veterans Vote For Trump This Year?

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Exit polls showed that President Trump won the votes of military veterans by a big margin in 2016. And if you look at states where the count was close, the military vote might even have equaled the entire margin of victory. So will veterans this time around return the president to office? Here to discuss that and the administration's record on veterans issues is NPR's Quil Lawrence.

Hi, Quil.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Hi.

MOSLEY: Do we have any indication how veterans are voting this year?

LAWRENCE: Well, veterans - really, the veterans vote isn't really a thing so much as that veterans vote along with their age, their gender and their race. And veterans in this country skew male, white and older. In 2016, Trump won - maybe won them 2-to-1. But if you break it down, a recent Morning Consult poll found that with younger veterans, the president isn't as far as - ahead as he was in 2016; same with active-duty troops in a Military Times poll. With nonwhite military households, they support Biden 75% in a Quinnipiac poll. So will Trump win the veterans vote? Yes, but probably not by the same huge margin.

MOSLEY: What are some of the issues that are specific to veterans, and how is each candidate doing with them?

LAWRENCE: For the president - President Trump has made veterans issues front and center. He pushed through a lot of mostly bipartisan legislation. He just signed a suicide prevention bill over the weekend. He often claims he passed the Choice Act. That was actually legislation pushed by the late John McCain, among others, and signed by President Obama in 2014. But Trump did sign the MISSION Act, which expanded that choice to allow more veterans to get private care in their community, reimbursed by the VA.

It's hard to judge the real success of that because the pandemic has thrown off all the numbers. But I spoke with Navy vet Bob Carey, who's with The Independence Fund, which is a vets group that has been close to the Trump administration.

BOB CAREY: This administration, on many aspects of the MISSION Act, has done a really good job. In terms of increasing access to community care for veterans, that's been a home run.

LAWRENCE: But Carey has major concerns with another part of the MISSION Act, which was the expansion of the VA's caregiver program to older vets.

CAREY: But unfortunately, on the caregiver program, it's a pretty big disappointment. They had an opportunity to address some of the fundamental problems with the program that you've reported about over the years, and they pretty much refused to do so. They said the concerns we raised weren't significant. I think a lot of the caregivers that have gone through those problems would say otherwise.

MOSLEY: OK. So let's talk a little bit about Joe Biden. What's his record on veterans issues?

LAWRENCE: Well, Biden's connection to veterans issues - he often mentions his son Beau, who was an Iraq vet. And there's a major issue there, which is toxic exposures. Biden is said - has said that it's possible his son's brain cancer, which eventually killed him, might have been caused by burn pits in Iraq. But the former vice president is running on or sometimes away from the Obama administration's record on this. His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and then-first lady Michelle Obama ran a very popular vets program called Joining Forces. But there was also a huge scandal over long wait times at the VA.

MOSLEY: With the 30 seconds I have with you, the president has been talking about that, too. He claimed at the first presidential debate that more than 300,000 veterans had died waiting for care under Biden and Obama's watch.

LAWRENCE: Yeah, the study that he cites there doesn't really say that. I mean...

MOSLEY: Yeah.

LAWRENCE: ...Some of the vets who died on that list were actually outstanding appointments from the VA in the '90s. So it was really more of a sign of VA - poor VA recordkeeping than anything else.

MOSLEY: Thank you, Quil.

That's NPR's Quil...

LAWRENCE: Thanks.

MOSLEY: ...Lawrence.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.