A 20-year veteran of the U.S. armed forces, Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) plans to focus much of his efforts in the new congressional session on veteran affairs.
The recently re-elected representative for Colorado’s 6th District said that he intends to focus on issues ranging from transition into the citizen workforce to how the country can better take care of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I think the real concern is in looking at the unemployment rates for veterans, particularly those coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it is significantly higher than the general population,” Coffman said.
One way Coffman hopes to defeat this is by working from the inside out. Near the close of the last session he introduced a bill that would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire qualified veterans before hiring from the outside.
“Only about a third of the people that work (in the VA) have actually served in the military,” Coffman said, “and I just think that there’s a culture there that’s not responsive to the veterans. … In my experience, people who have served in uniform are much more likely to understand the challenges of those who are in the military and are getting out of the military.”
It’s Coffman’s military background that also has him in the midst of a movement to restructure some recent cuts to the Department of Defense.
“I think we need to go forward with these cuts,” he said, “but I think they could be done in a way that doesn’t compromise our national security. There was no attention to detail paid to these cuts. I think that they thought it would never happen, so the notion was ‘let’s just do an across-the-board cut to the Department of Defense.’
“It just isn’t rational. We’re cutting programs that are essential and giving the same weight to programs that are essential to our national security to programs that probably should have gone by the wayside a long time ago or have little value.”
Coffman said he fancies himself different from many members in his own party in that a lot of Republicans don’t support any cuts to defense spending. Some of the things on the table in Coffman’s eyes include: troop levels in Europe; whether U.S. allies should be more involved in cost-sharing; whether we should retain some of our permanent overseas bases; are there functions being handled by active-duty military that could be handled by the reserve at a cheaper cost; and are there weapons systems that are being developed that aren’t critical.
“I’m looking at being very specific in coming up with cuts that I think will realize the same dollar amount but will not compromise our security,” he said.