Candidate Donald Trump belittled the heroics of Vietnam War combat pilot and POW Sen. John McCain and got into a long-running war of words with the Gold Star parents of an Army captain who died saving his troops from a car bomber in Iraq.
But Trump swaddled himself in the flag and promised to rebuild the armed forces with more ships, more weapons, more Marines and better benefits for veterans. All that seemed to explain why military veterans in key swing states helped propel him to the White House.
For example, in July 2016, he promised to set up a hotline “devoted to answering veterans’ complaints of wrongdoing at the VA and ensure no complaints fall through the cracks.” And speaking in Philadelphia in September 2016, he said: "We will build a Marine Corps based on 36 battalions, which the Heritage Foundation notes is the minimum needed to deal with major contingencies – we have 23 now."
That was then.
The 2018 budget that President Trump submitted to Congress this week does indeed ratchet up military spending – to $603 billion -- but not by much, with active-duty troops and vets not faring so well.
Among the ways that the budget does not match the campaign rhetoric are:
- Active-duty troops will get a pay raise next year, but the 2.1 percent increase is less than 2.4 percent increase defined under current law, which calls for “a military pay raise to equal the annual increase in the wages and salaries of private industry employees as measured by the ECI [Employment Cost Index],” according to the 2018 Defense budget. That works out to a raise of about $50 a month for an Army private and another $115 a month for a junior officer, according to Military Times, which says that “President Trump is poised to pay for military modernization by eating into the Defense Department's personnel accounts.”
- The proposed budget does not allow for any increase in troop levels for the Marines. The Marine Times says active-duty strength will remain at the same number in 2018 – 185,000 – that was approved for this year.
- Trump’s call for a 350-ship Navy is not answered by this budget, which does not accelerate the schedule for purchasing new ships, according to Reuters.
- Disabled veterans would take a hit in the Veterans Affairs portion of the budget, despite a 6 percent boost in overall discretionary spending for the VA. Officials plan to remove vets over 60 from a program that awards 100 percent payouts to former military personnel who can’t find work because of service-related injuries even if they are not completely disabled. The VA argues that if vets can collect early Social Security payments, they should not be in the program. The move will affect about 225,000 vets -- including 7,000 or so over age 80. The payments can reach over $22,000 a year per recipient. The move is expected to save $3.2 billion next year, according to Military Times.
One big pledge Trump the candidate made that the proposed budget keeps is ensuring “that every veteran has the choice to seek care at the VA or at a private service provider.” The $186.5 billion for the VA includes more than $13 billion for outside medical care.
But the hotline for vets that Trump promised has never been set up.