How Women Veterans Are Responding to Trump’s Disparaging Comments About The Military

Supermajority Education Fund

September 21, 2020

Exit polls from the 2016 election show that 60% of veterans voted President Donald Trump into office in 2016. But since The Atlantic’s September 3 report alleging President Trump referred to America’s war dead as “losers” and “suckers” after cancelling his appearance at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France in 2018, their approval could be in flux.

Trump disputes the claims published in The Atlantic, but the president has made dismissive comments about veterans in the past, including mocking both late Sen. John McCain for his capture during the Vietnam War and former president George H.W. Bush for being shot down as a Navy pilot in World War II.

Many, therefore, are taking the president’s denial with a grain of salt — and 70 current and former elected Democrats with backgrounds in national security took action. Within 24 hours of The Atlantic’s report, these Democrats — one being Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a veteran who lost both her legs during the Iraq War— signed an open letter demanding an apology from the president. 

“His disparaging comments are, by any objective measure, callous, disgraceful, and yet sadly, expected,” the letter reads. “They are a mere extension of what we’ve already seen and heard with our own eyes and ears on countless occasions.”

Lory Manning, a U.S. Navy veteran and Director of Government Operations for Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), attributes the president’s “outrageous” comments to insecurity, noting that “he’s protecting himself” from his own inability to “meet the standard to be a good soldier.” While SWAN has not taken an official stance on the event, Manning added that she’s personally seen both veterans and enlisted individuals reacting in chat rooms and private Facebook pages.

“They’re just appalled,” Manning told Supermajority News.

The Atlantic report wasn’t necessarily the catalyst for doubting the commander-in-chief. A survey of veterans conducted in 2019 showed a 57% approval rating of Trump. When the group was broken down by gender, 33% of female respondents said Trump respects veterans. A 2020 poll from the Military Times in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University pre-dating Trump’s alleged comments revealed that 49.9% of active duty service members respondents had an unfavorable view of the president, compared to about 38% with a favorable view. The percent of service members who view Trump unfavorably jumps to 54.4% when looking at just female respondents

Deborah Harmon-Pugh, national campaign chair at Women Veterans ROCK! and executive director of the Women Veterans Civic Leadership Institute, says women veterans will support candidates who support them and the issues they care about. 

“Leaders have the responsibility of drawing the very best out of the people they lead,” Harmon-Pugh told Supermajority News. “Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective.”

Beyond Trump’s disparaging comments about them, women veterans are also concerned about the president’s inaction on the major issues they care about. One of these is sexual assault prevention. According to statistics from Protect Our Defenders, a human rights organization focused on America’s military, the rate of sexual assault and rape of military women increased by over 50% between 2016 and 2018, and less than 25% of victims report these instances. In 2017 alone, more than 1,325,000 VA outpatient visits took place for military sexual trauma-related care.

Other issues include comprehensive elder care for aging veterans, fair promotional and leadership opportunities, and better mental health care for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. While Second Lady Karen Pence has led a nationwide veteran suicide prevention campaign, Manning says she hasn’t seen the president address these issues at all. Instead, Trump has focused on things like banning transgender individuals from the military and accusing his defense coordinators of advocating war for profit.

Manning’s advice to women veterans and active-military members as we approach the presidential election is simple enough: Check if you’re registered to vote, make sure to register if you’re not, and vote. If voting by mail-in ballot, active-military members in particular may face a considerable time lag with the armed services mail system depending on where they are stationed, so military voters should return their applications and ballots as early as possible.

“Women veterans have a long, proud and rich history of military service to our country,” Harmon-Pugh said. “Today’s women veterans continue to fight for their rightful expectations of equity and inclusion both in uniform and when they retire their uniform in exchange for post-military civilian life.”

Voting this November will be a vital contribution to this fight.