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veteran issues in u s presidential debates

We are inching closer and closer to wrapping up the primary debate season, and many topics have been discussed from National Security, to immigration, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and Donald Trump’s temper. One of the biggest issues has been the question of whether the United States should send conventional and unconventional ground troops back into Iraq and into Syria with the hopes of pushing back ISIS. The use of the American military forces in political debates is hardly a new topic; American military strength and its use are often brought up during the debates for those running for the ”˜highest office in the land.’

However, what hardly ever comes up is how the country cares for these military personnel when they come home which is an ever increasing issue as we try to scale down our operations around the world. Are veterans being forgotten during these ever important public debates for the highest office in the country a new issue, or have we been forgotten all along?

I recently took a dive into a sea of transcripts for televised debates during presidential primary and general election cycles to see how often veteran issues were brought up. This was no small task; all of the general election debate transcripts and a sampling of the primary debate transcripts totaled over 1800 pages and 800,000 words. Therefore, a little statistical sampling was needed, and I will have a long footnote at the bottom of this article hitting on the research methods used to sift through all this information.

In short: it doesn’t look so good for us veterans.

In long form: the answer is overwhelmingly that on a national stage, veterans are almost all but forgotten. In the time frame analyzed, presidential candidates in general election debates used the term ”˜veteran’ approximately 34 times, the vice-presidential candidates 5 times, and primary candidates 15 times. Used far more frequently in these debates was the word ”˜military.’ General election President and Vice-President candidates used the word 320 and 104 times, respectively. Primary candidates used the word 162 times. Democratic primary candidates used the words ”˜veteran’ and ”˜military’ 12 and 60 times, respectively with Republican primary candidates using them 10 and 102 times.

Yearly Usage Graph

To put that all into perspective, out of approximately 800,000 words spoken in our transcripts, we have a rate of about one use of the word ”˜veteran’ for every 13,000 words spoken. ”˜Military’ was used once for every 1300 words. Out of all of those instances, an actual statement in regards to veteran care using either ”˜veteran’ or ”˜military’ at least once”¦ was made thirty-one times. If you’re wondering about all of these statements coming from one party or the other, I assure you both parties were equal parts failure in this sense. 49% of these statements regarding veteran care came from Democrats, 45% came from Republicans, and 3% each came from Independent candidates and a moderator of a debate (which was one instance that came from a 1992 vice-presidential debate that neither candidate actually answered).

Source of Care Statement Pie Chart

Where does that put us as veterans and the general population of voters? Once again, it isn’t in a great place. Suicides are a widely regarded issue among veterans, and there are plenty of non-profit movements looking to push that number down to zero. There are studies into finding new and unique methods of treating Post-Traumatic Stress and depression among the veteran population in real-life and academic settings. However, the national agenda setters are still not standing firm for veteran care issues. For instance, a recent piece from Task & Purpose’s Sarah Sicard shows how little the 2016 candidates are publicly addressing veterans’ issues, and President Obama’s final State of the Union addressed veterans an entire one time”¦ at the very beginning and without a plan for future care.

This should concern the American electorate, because our candidates seem so ready to claim the awesomeness of our country’s military power. They are so eager to commit our troops to such actions on our behalf but aren’t preparing to handle the consequences of sending men and women off to face these scenarios. It leads one to think that maybe they don’t care, are afraid to say so, or truly don’t think there is an issue.

It is time the voters of America require more from our candidates, and to ask our media, “Why aren’t you pushing for more questions during these nationally televised debates?” We can see there is a problem as even one suicide a day is inexcusable. We can see our media representatives aren’t asking the questions about veteran care, and the candidates aren’t saying anything on their own. Therefore, can we see it is time for us to say something? Can we see it is time to defend those who have already defended our freedom?

I’m ready, are you? ———- Footnote on Research Methods ————-

To date, it does not appear a proper statistical analysis has been conducted on these presidential debates and the messages the candidates are bringing regarding veteran care, so I grabbed a collection of thirty presidential and nine vice-presidential debates from the general election cycle in addition to twelve debates from the two major parties’ primaries. The thirty-nine presidential and vice-presidential debates were from 1960 to 2012 with the exception of a few years when the debates were not televised. These debates were planned by the major parties and published on television and/or radio and constitute the ”˜official’ debates during that time period. The transcripts from these debates were created and made readily available to the public.

The twelve party debates were collected from primaries conducted between 2004 and 2012 in order to evaluate media questions and candidate responses after the September 11th attacks, a time when new veterans would be created, and more and more would be returning home each year. Each major party held two series of debates during that time; two from the Democrats in 2004 and 2008, and two from the Republicans in 2008 and 2012. Three debates from each debate year and party, respectively, were randomly chosen. This would give each party a sample of six debates.

Research was conducted by searching through the content of each individual debate transcript. Two words were searched for, and if found, the context in which the word appears was further analyzed. The first word searched was ”˜veteran,’ and the second was ”˜military.’ ”˜Veteran’ was an immediate and clear cut look into seeing if a candidate was bringing up the term and allowed an analysis of the content to see if the candidate was bringing it up in the context of veteran care. The second term, ”˜military,’ was used to broaden the scope of the search to see if examples such as “former members of our military” were used. If found, the same analysis of its use in context was conducted. The use of each word was counted towards a grand total. During the analysis of context, another count was created to note if the use of either word was in the scope of a plan or desire to care for veteran care with even the slightest of plan. That is, “I was standing with a veteran the other day”¦” would not be an appropriate use of term for current research, but “My plan for veteran care is”¦” or “I want to improve the life of our former members of the military by”¦,” would be a sign of actual statements for helping veterans.

The next step was to take out the header and footer information (the names of candidates, the broadcasting channel, etc.) from each transcript and combine them all into one document. This created a document containing fifty transcripts (the 1976 Vice-President Debate was unavailable from an official source at the time of this paper), totaling approximately 1840 pages and 805,000 words. Some of these words were considered ”˜junk words’ or were not actually spoken by an individual on the podium. This included words in the transcript indicating audience applause, or who the speaker was of the following text. In order to best minimize the impact of these ”˜junk words’ on the data, a sampling was conducting to identify their approximate total occurrences. In order to reach a 99.999% confidence, with a 5% margin of error on the estimate, we needed a sample of 1949 words from the total words pool. With an average of 430 words per page in this combined document, 5 pages (totaling 2051 sample words) were selected at random to conduct a ”˜junk word’ count. With 25 ”˜junk words’ in 2051 total sample page word count, a 1.2% occurrence rate was estimated, and the total useful word count for the document was reduced to approximately 795,550 words.

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