What Obama's re-election means for the military, veterans

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President Barack Obama visits a campaign office in the Chicago, Illinois neighborhood of Hyde Park on Election Day 2012. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
From Stripes.com
President Barack Obama visits a campaign office in the Chicago, Illinois neighborhood of Hyde Park on Election Day 2012. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

What Obama's re-election means for the military, veterans

by: Leo Shane III | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: November 08, 2012
WASHINGTON – Even though Barack Obama has served as commander in chief for the last four years, his re-election Tuesday means significant changes for the military in coming months, especially in terms of defense spending.
Where his challenger in the presidential campaign promised big increases in military budgets in coming years, Obama has planned almost $500 billion in spending reductions for the military over the next decade, calling it a responsible post-war plan.
Republicans in Congress fiercely oppose the effort, but the president’s re-election blunts their hopes of increasing or even holding steady defense spending in coming years.
Obama’s victory also leaves the military on a steady path to full withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, and on a “diplomacy first” path throughout the Middle East. He has promised a firmer hand with Pakistan and Syria, although critics question why he hasn’t done more in those countries.
Here’s a look at what else to expect for the military in Obama’s second term:
End strength cuts
Obama has pledged to trim back the military’s end strength -- the Army by about 70,000, and the Marine Corps by about 18,000, over the next five years -- and reign in the number of senior civilian and military personnel at the Pentagon. The services should start feeling that pinch in 2013.
Advisors have said his proposed 2014 budget, due in February, will reflect the strategy he outlined in January of a leaner, quick-response fighting force, one with a smaller footprint in Europe and a larger presence in the Pacific.
In a statement to Stars and Stripes before the election, Obama said the more modern defense posture will be more flexible and more sustainable, “helping allies and partners build their capacity, with more training and exercises.” But it will also be done with fewer personnel, a claim his critics on the right have called impossible to execute.
Sequestration
Now that the election is over, preventing $500 billion in automatic defense cuts slated to start in January will be the lame-duck Congress’ top priority.
For much of the campaign, Obama and Romney railed against the sequestration cuts and the dangers they pose to the military. The president in recent weeks has stepped up his pressure on Congress to find an alternative plan, declaring in the final presidential debate that the cuts “will not happen.”
That won’t be easy. Lawmakers haven’t been able to approach a compromise on the issue all year. Obama stated he won’t let the military be decimated by sequestration, but also won’t sacrifice other domestic programs to save the services.
Top congressional Republicans and Democrats insist they won’t budge on additional tax revenues. The two sides have less than eight weeks to find an answer.
The Defense of Marriage Act
The fight over federal recognition of same-sex marriages isn’t directly tied to the Defense Department, but it could have dramatic effects on who receives military benefits.
Obama has publicly stated his opposition to DOMA, which prohibits the government from giving same-sex married couples access to federal benefits. Gay rights advocates have made the issue their key battleground, especially since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law has been overturned.
If the defense of marriage act is repealed (or overturned by the courts), gay military couples could have access to health care, housing and commissary benefits that are only open to heterosexual couples. Veterans benefits and health care would also for the first time be open to those individuals.
Promises to veterans
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki promised to end veterans homelessness by late 2015, eliminate the veterans benefits backlog by late 2015, and establish a joint VA-DOD lifelong medical records system by 2017. All of those ambitious deadlines will now come during Obama’s second term.
The VA promises come amid a wave of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans leaving the military for civilian life. The unemployment rate among the youngest generation of war fighters has remained stubbornly high for the last four years, usually exceeding the national jobless rate.
And lawmakers in recent months have criticized the department for not having enough mental health specialists on hand, prompting promises of new hiring and better outreach to veterans.
Veterans groups have lauded the lofty goals, but privately have been skeptical about whether the VA can follow through and succeed.
For more coverage of the 2012 election results, visit www.stripes.com.
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