Editor’s note: A look at the veracity of claims by political figures
WASHINGTON — In his Fourth of July remarks, President Donald Trump will be celebrating the armed forces and showcasing what he’s done for them. But in recent days, he has falsified his record on military matters on several fronts.
He’s claimed, for example, that he came up with the “genius idea” of giving veterans private health care so they don’t have to wait for Veterans Affairs appointments, only to find out that others had thought of it but failed to get it done.
President Barack Obama signed the law getting it done in 2014.
Trump also made the flatly false statement that he won troops their first raise in a decade, suggested he’s made progress reducing veteran suicides that is not backed up by the numbers, and contradicted the record in claiming that North Korea is cooperating on the return of the remains of U.S. troops.
A look at his statements on military matters and personnel, some of which may be heard from the stage Thursday or in tweets:
Trump, addressing military members: “You also got very nice pay raises for the last couple of years. Congratulations. Oh, you care about that. They care about that. I didn’t think you noticed. Yeah, you were entitled. You know, it was close to 10 years before you had an increase. Ten years. And we said, ‘It’s time.’ And you got a couple of good ones, big ones, nice ones.” — remarks Sunday at Osan Air Base, South Korea.
The facts: He’s been spreading this falsehood for more than a year, soaking up cheers from crowds for something he didn’t do. In May 2018, for example, he declared to graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy: “We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years.”
U.S. military members have received a pay raise every year for decades.
Trump also boasts about the size of the military pay raises under his administration, but there’s nothing extraordinary about them.
Several raises in the last decade have been larger than service members are getting under Trump — 2.6% this year, 2.4% last year, 2.1% in 2017.
Raises in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for example, were all 3.4% or more.
Pay increases shrank after that because of congressionally mandated budget caps. Trump and Congress did break a trend that began in 2011 of pay raises that hovered between 1% and 2%.
Trump: “On average, 20 veterans and members take their own lives every day. … We’re working very, very hard on that. In fact, the first time I heard the number was 23, and now it’s down somewhat. But it’s such an unacceptable number.” — call on June 25 with military veterans.
The facts: Trump incorrectly suggests that he helped reduce veterans’ suicide, noting that his administration was working “very, very hard” on the problem and that in fact the figure had come down. But no decline has been registered during his administration. There was a drop during the Obama administration, but that might be because of the way veterans’ suicides are counted.
The Veterans Affairs Department estimated in 2013 that 22 veterans were taking their lives each day on average (not 23, as Trump put it). The estimate was based on data submitted from fewer than half of the states. In 2016, VA released an estimate of 20 suicides per day, based on 2014 data from all 50 states as well as the Pentagon.
The estimated average has not budged since.
Trump has pledged additional money for suicide prevention and created in March a Cabinet-level task force that will seek to develop a national roadmap for suicide prevention, part of a campaign pledge to improve health care for veterans.
Still, a report by the Government Accountability Office in December found the VA had left millions of dollars unspent that were available for suicide prevention efforts. The report said VA had spent just $57,000 out of $6.2 million available for paid media, such as social-media postings, thanks in part to leadership turmoil at the agency.
Trump, on North Korea’s help in returning the remains of U.S. troops from the Korean War: “The remains are coming back as they get them, as they find them. The remains of our great heroes from the war. And we really appreciate that.” — remarks Sunday to Korean business leaders in Seoul.
Trump: “We’re very happy about the remains having come back. And they’re bringing back — in fact, we were notified they have additional remains of our great heroes from many years ago.” — remarks June 28 in Japan.
The facts: His account is at odds with developments.
No remains of U.S. service members have been returned since last summer and the U.S. suspended efforts in May to get negotiations on the remains back on track in time to have more repatriated this year. It hopes more remains may be brought home next year.
The Pentagon’s Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, which is the outfit responsible for recovering U.S. war remains and returning them to families, “has not received any new information from (North Korean) officials regarding the turn over or recovery of remains,” spokesman Charles Prichard said Wednesday.
Prichard said his agency is “still working to communicate” with the North Korean army “as it is our intent to find common ground on resuming recovery missions” in 2020.
Last summer, in line with the first summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.
U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.
The Pentagon estimates that 5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.
Trump, on approving private-sector health care for veterans: “I actually came up with the idea. I said, ‘Why don’t we just have the veterans go out and see a private doctor and we’ll pay the cost of the doctor and that will solve the problem?’ Because some veterans were waiting for 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks, they couldn’t get any service at all. I said, ‘We’ll just send them out.’ And I thought it was a genius idea, brilliant idea. And then I came back and met with the board and a lot of the people that handled the VA. … They said, ‘Actually, sir, we’ve been trying to get that passed for 40 years, and we haven’t been able to get it.’ … I’m good at getting things done. … It’s really cut down big on the waits.” — call on June 25 with military veterans.
Trump: “We passed VA Choice and VA Accountability to give our veterans the care that they deserve and they have been trying to pass these things for 45 years.” — Montoursville, Pennsylvania, rally May 20.
The facts: Trump did not invent the idea of giving veterans the option to see private doctors outside the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system at government expense. Nor is he the first president in 40 years to pass the program.
Congress approved the private-sector Veterans Choice health program in 2014 and Obama signed it into law. Trump expanded it.
Under the expansion, which took effect last month, veterans still may have to wait weeks to see a doctor. The program allows veterans to see a private doctor if their VA wait is 20 days (28 for specialty care) or their drive is only 30 minutes.
Indeed, the VA says it does not expect a major increase in veterans seeking care outside the VA under Trump’s expanded program, partly because waiting times in the private sector are typically longer than at VA.
“The care in the private sector, nine times out of 10, is probably not as good as care in VA,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Congress in March.