With a country facing sharp cuts to national defense, military threats from across the globe, and the end of more than a decade at war, American troops and veterans still say their number one concern is the national debt.
In a survey of 800 active troops and veterans conducted by the Winston Group and released last month, the failing U.S. economy and national debt were the top two concerns cited by respondents, ranking above cuts to the military, hostile foreign powers, and even international terror groups.
With U.S. debt hitting $16 trillion earlier this month, one group is taking that message on the road.
An ad recently released by the organization Concerned Veterans for America splices that frightening figure–$16 trillion–with quotes from key U.S. leaders emphasizing the gravity of the country‚??s economic position.
‚??The biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt,‚?Ě intones Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey in a 2011 clip shown in the add.
According to poll results, 71 percent of current and former military members agreed with him.
In an interview this month with Human Events, Concerned Veterans for American CEO Pete Hegseth said the survey made it clear that veterans are not just a fringe demographic concerned with issues related to their own service.
‚??We make the mistake of assuming that‚??s our monolith, that we only care about our benefits and defense cuts, which of course we care quite a bit about,‚?Ě he said. ‚??But this is also a larger argument about government reform and reforming the way we do business.‚?Ě
From hyping a ‚??war on women‚?Ě to making tailored pleas for the votes of minorities, a portion of President Barack Obama‚??s reelection strategy has focused on addressing the separate perceived concerns of various demographics.
This new data, Hegseth said, reinforces the Republican contention that all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or background, share a common concern for the plight of the economy and a desire to see the country turn a corner.
‚??We‚??re just looking for people who want to have an adult conversation about it and fix this, rather than demagogue and point fingers, which of course is what you get oftentimes in political scenarios,‚?Ě he said.
CVA has only existed since April (Hegseth, a captain in the Army National Guard, previously headed an advocacy organization called Vets for Freedom) but its Facebook page has already collected more than 85,000 fans and its 25 paid staff members canvass 10 states.
This election cycle has seen the emergence of a number of outspoken veterans‚?? groups, from former special forces operators protesting alleged White House security leaks to active and retired Navy SEALs objecting to the Obama‚??s use of the bin Laden raid as a campaign talking point.
While CVA increases the clout of veterans in this election, Hegseth said its leaders have plans that extend past 2012.
‚??We‚??re pretty focused on the implications of spending, the implications of debt, how can we be a part of solutions well beyond November,‚?Ě he said.
For now, that means organizing veterans on a grassroots level to voice their concerns about the economy while spreading that message in the media.
In spite of an exhaustive campaign cycle, the political power of local veterans has gone largely untapped.
‚??Vets haven‚??t been organized beyond meeting at meeting halls for a long time,‚?Ě said Hegseth.