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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Hurting the Troops?

Democrats attack GOP incumbents for voting against funding troops. Some ads are wrong, others lack context.


Well over a dozen Democratic ads claim incumbent GOP lawmakers voted against benefits and funding for the nation’s military. The Republicans are accused variously of opposing a $1,500 bonus, expanded health care, trauma care, and job assistance for troops. Some of the ads are false. The rest are true, but don’t tell the whole story.

The ads stop short of telling voters that  National Guard and Reservists already get the same healthcare coverage as active-duty troops while they are on active duty and for a considerable time before and afterward. They also fail to mention that the maximum death benefit for troops had already been doubled the previous year, that the increase proposed in trauma care would have been only a small boost to an already significant funding amount, and that job assistance for troops already exists.


The claims below are taken from 18 political ads that appeared in 14 districts across the country between Sept. 29 and Oct. 19.  All of the ads are from Democratic candidates or groups.  Some are misleading or false, and those that are true paint only part of a larger picture. Voters might get a different impression once informed of other relevant facts.

Healthcare for Guard & Reservists

Shuler for Congress Ad:

Announcer: Charles Taylor talks about supporting our troops. But what’s he done?  Taylor cut veterans’ benefits, opposed healthcare for the National Guard and job training for our soldiers returning from Iraq.

(On Screen Text: Opposed Health Care for the National Guard.)

Announcer: Heath Schuler will support our veterans, he’ll make sure returning troops have healthcare and he’ll fight for a permanent tax cut for all veterans because that’s the right thing to do. Heath Shuler. The change we need.

Shuler: I’m Heath Shuler and I approve this message.

At least five ads this year claim a Republican incumbent voted against expanding healthcare for National Guard and Reservists. It’s true that they did vote against such an amendment, but the ads beg the question: Expand it from what? Members of the National Guard and Reserves already are granted full military health insurance – referred to as TRICARE – for themselves and their families 90 days before, during and 180 days after their active-duty service. TRICARE is the same health insurance full-time active duty service members receive.

Two ads by Democratic House candidate Heath Shuler against GOP incumbent Charles Taylor of North Carolina, claim flatly that Taylor voted against “healthcare” for the National Guard and Reserves. This is false. Members of the 109th Congress were never asked to vote on whether to give or deny healthcare to the Guard and Reserves – only on whether to expand their existing coverage.

Increased Death Benefits

The Committee to Bring Back Baron Ad:
“Vet Support”

Announcer: While our troops fight to protect American values overseas, in Washington, millionaire Mike Sodrel voted against expanding health care for our troops. Voted against millions of dollars for combat related trauma care. Voted against job assistance for Veterans returning home, even against an increase in death benefits for families who have lost loved ones.

Hill: I’m Baron Hill, and I approve this message because anyone who puts their life on the line for this great country, deserves all the support they can get.

A Sept. 29 ad by Democrat Baron Hill of Indiana accuses Republican rival Mike Sodrel of voting against “increased death benefits for families.” It’s true that Sodrel voted against a measure that would have allowed some families to get more than the current maximum of $500,000 in death benefits. However, the ad doesn’t mention that in 2005, Sodrel voted in favor of a bill that doubled that maximum amount, which had previously been $250,000. Later in 2005 Sodrel also voted in favor of making the increase permanent and retroactive to Oct 7, 2001.

The motion favoring additional sums over the $500,000 maximum failed on a mostly party-line vote with 195 Democrats, the lone independent and six Republicans voting in favor. Two hundred and twenty Republicans, including Sodrel, opposed the motion.

Job Assistance for Veterans

Three ads, two against Republican Taylor in North Carolina and one against Sodrel in Indiana, accuse incumbents of voting “against job assistance for veterans.” That’s misleading. Had the ads said they voted against additional job training or job assistance they would have been accurate. The ads fail to mention that Veterans can already receive job assistance through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The ads refer to an amendment by Democrat Dale Kildee of Michigan  that would extend a civilian job assistance program to employed and unemployed veterans who discovered their jobs were outsourced to foreign competition while they were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the ads don’t mention that veterans already receive job assistance through the Department of Veterans Affairs, regardless of how they lost their job. The amendment failed on a strictly party-line vote, with 196 Democrats and the lone Independent voting in favor and 228 Republicans voting against.

$1500 Troops Bonus

DCCC Ad: “Bonuses”

Announcer: We’ve asked so much of them, so how could Heather Wilson vote against giving our military men and women in Iraq a $1500 bonus?

(On Screen: Images of soldiers in combat.)

Announcer: Just $1500 dollars more for our troops in harms way. And Wilson voted no.  But Wilson voted yes to a Congressional pay raise for herself, not one, but six times. Just ask yourself, if we should expect more from Heather Wilson, especially in times like these. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

We found 11 ads by Democrats accusing Republican incumbents of voting against a $1,500 bonus for US troops. The ads refer to an amendment by Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, which would have given the troops such a bonus. The measure failed by the narrowest possible margin on a mostly party-line vote Oct. 17, 2003. Two Democrats and 211 Republicans voted against the amendment. It lost on a tied 213-213 vote.

What the ad fails to mention is that money for the bonus would have come at the cost of funds for reconstruction of Iraq, which Republicans argued was of critical importance. Among the few Democrats opposing the measure was Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, an ex-Marine and the highest ranking member of his party on the Defense appropriations subcommittee:

Rep. Murtha: I know we all want to help the troops, but we struggle all the time trying to make sure we balance out the money they make. . . . I would ask the Members to vote against this amendment, no matter how all of us would like to see the troops get more money.

Combat-related Trauma Care

“Troop Healthcare”

Announcer: They serve our country honorably and deserve support in combat. And when they return home. But when Congress voted on 53 million dollars in medical care for our veterans, Chris Chocola voted no.

(On Screen: Pictures of soldiers in combat and in hospital beds.)

Announcer: $8 million for trauma care. Chocola voted no. $9 million for prosthetic research, Chocola voted no. After fighting for us, don’t they deserve a Congressman who will fight for them. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Two ads accuse Indiana Republicans Mike Sodrel and Chris Chocola of voting against an amendment that would have provided $53 million in medical services for the troops, including $8 million for combat-related trauma care and $9 million for prosthetics research. However, the ads don’t mention that both Chocola and Sodrel voted for the underlying House bill which provided $393 million in funding for prosthetics research and fulfilled the VA’s request for $2.2 billion in funding for combat trauma treatment. The amendment, which had been introduced by Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, failed on another mostly party-line vote with 210 Republicans joining 4 Democrats in voting against.


Watch Shuler for Congress Ad: “Troops”

Watch DCCC Ad: “Bonuses”

Watch DCCC Ad: “Troop Healthcare”

Watch the Committee to Bring Back Baron Ad: “Vet Support”


Plummer, Anne. “House Backs More Military Spending,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly. 28 May 2005.

Kapp, Lawrence. “Reserve Component Personnel Issues: Questions and Answers,” Congressional Research Service. 28 Jan 2006.

Dagett, Stephen. “Defense: FY2006 Authorization and Appropriations,” Congressional Research Service. 20 Jan 2006.

McCutcheon, Chuck. “Senate Committee Approves Defense Spending Bill, Adding $4.1 Billion for Overseas Missions,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly. 29 May 2000.

Ives-Halperin, Benton and Gayle S. Putrich. “Bill to Speed Up Materiel Acquisitions Passes in House,” Congressional Quarterly Today. 14 June 2004.

Plummer, Anne. “House Democrats Likely to Push Military Health Care Extension for Reservists,” Congressional Quarterly Today. 26 May 2005.

Plummer, Anne. “House Adds ‘Buy American’ to Defense Bill; Health Care Measure Rejected,” Congressional Quarterly Today. 25 May 2005.

Burrelli, David F. and Jennifer R. Corwell. “Military Death benefits: Status and Proposals,” Congressional Research Service. 24 Jan 2006.