TAMPA, Fla. — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke released a plan Monday morning to improve the lives of veterans, returning to an area of priority during his time in the U.S. House for his latest 2020 policy rollout.
In keeping with measures he supported in Congress, the plan calls for a "responsible end" to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — reinvesting $1 out of every $2 saved in veterans programs — and the creation of a Veterans Health Care Trust Fund for each future war. The fund would be paid for by a "war tax" on households without service members or veterans.
“We must be willing to pay any price, and bear any burden, to provide the full care, support, and resources to every single veteran who served every single one of us," O'Rourke said in a statement, adding that the best way to honor veterans is to "cancel the blank check for endless war — and reinvest the savings to ensure every American can thrive upon their return home."
The war tax would be a progressive tax on adjusted gross income, ranging from $25 for those making less than $30,000 per year to $1,000 for those earning over $200,000 every year. The tax "would serve as a reminder of the incredible sacrifice made by those who serve and their families," O'Rourke's plan says.
O'Rourke's platform also includes ideas to overhaul veterans' health care, ensure all veterans are treated equally and help with the transition back to civilian life. The ideas include a host of reforms to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, with an emphasis on helping veterans dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.
O'Rourke held a roundtable here later Monday morning to pitch the plan to a group of local veterans and advocates. During a discussion that lasted nearly an hour and a half, O'Rourke heard at times emotional stories from the participants and sought to connect their challenges to his plan. He also took suggestions from the veterans, including one who asked if O'Rourke's plan addresses the "funding fee" that veterans have to pay on VA home loans.
"We don't address the funding fee [in my plan], but I want to address it now that you raise it," O'Rourke said, calling it an "excellent idea."
O'Rourke is visiting Florida ahead of the first primary debate Wednesday night in Miami, and he got kudos from some at the roundtable for using the trip to train attention on veterans issues.
"I know you're going to be talking to a lot of people at the debates later this week, but being here and listening to the vets, I think, speaks louder than that possibly ever could," said Andrew Learned, a congressional candidate from the area and a Navy veteran.
The veterans plan takes O'Rourke back to a constituency that he prioritized during his three terms representing El Paso — home to Fort Bliss — in the House. He served on both the Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs committees, and he held quarterly town halls specifically for veterans.
Initially knocked as light on details, O'Rourke has been unveiling policy proposals at a steady clip since early May. Before the veterans plan, he put out ideas on climate change, immigration, criminal justice reform, abortion, voting rights, LGBT rights and entrepreneurship.
And there is likely more to come, with his campaign recently hiring a batch of policy staffers. Chief among them is national policy director Carmel Martin, a former Obama administration official and top policy expert at the Center for American Progress.