President Donald Trump told the nation Tuesday night that “great nations do not fight endless wars,” pledging to move toward a political solution in Afghanistan while touting military success against ISIS and promising to decrease troop presence in Syria.
Trump's State of the Union also addressed recent reforms at the Department of Veterans affairs, plans to “fully rebuild the United States military,” and national security concerns from NATO to North Korea - Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the end of February in Vietnam for their second summit.
While many of these proposals received applause from lawmakers and others in attendance, the warmest response of the night may have come for three D-Day veterans - Pfc. Joseph Reilly, Staff Sgt. Irving Locker, and Sgt. Herman Zeitchik - who were among the honored guests at the speech.
Key takeaways for the military community from the address:
1. VA accountability: Reflecting on bipartisan accomplishments, Trump highlighted the VA Accountability Act, which was introduced in 2017 and was among MOAA's legislative victories that year. The law gives VA Secretary Robert Wilkie increased flexibility to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including leaders, for misconduct or poor performance. “We passed a VA accountability, so we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans,” Trump said.
2. An end in Afghanistan? Trump said he has “accelerated our negotiations to reach a political settlement” that would end the 19-year war, crediting the “unmatched valor” of American servicemembers with putting such a solution within reach. “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement -- but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace,” Trump said.
3. Leaving Syria. “When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria,” Trump said. “Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters.” The president pledged a “warm welcome home” for servicemembers deployed to Syria, though work will continue with allies to “destroy the remnants of ISIS.”
4. Protecting American security. Trump said the final part of his agenda is to protect America's national security, including defense budgets of $700 billion last year and $716 billion this year. Trump said other nations, which are part of NATO, are also paying their fair share for security. “For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by friends of ours - members of NATO - but now we have secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies,” he said.
Related to national security, Trump continued to call for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier -- not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down," Trump said.
5. Targeting health care costs. While not mentioning TRICARE or military health care specifically, Trump did pledge to work to “lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs,” including a proposal that would require health care companies to “disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.”