Why US veterans voted 2-to-1 for Donald Trump


Although it wasn't proclaimed a legal holiday until 1938, Veterans Day -- originally known as Armistice Day -- was introduced in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson in celebration of the end to World War I.

Almost 100 years later, exit polls show key swing-state counties with high veteran populations may have been crucial in securing a victory for President-elect Donald Trump.

According to CNN exit polls, veterans voted at a 2-1 ratio for Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. In Ohio, North Carolina and Florida -- battleground states rich with military history -- a number of counties pulled for Trump at numbers higher than those John McCain and Mitt Romney candidates had over President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

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U.S. census data shows about 7 percent of the nation's population has served in the military, making it a key demographic both 2016 presidential candidates vied to win over.

Clinton has an extensive track record working with the military, and spoke to that experience throughout her campaign.

As first lady, the Democratic nominee worked to investigate reports of an illness that affected veterans of the Gulf War, which became known as the Gulf War syndrome. In 2003, Clinton became the first U.S. senator from New York to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and would go on to pass bills like the Heroes of Home Act of 2006, which helped family members care for veterans that return home with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries. In a display of bipartisan effort, she worked with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to provide full military health benefits to National Guard members and reservists.

As secretary of state under President Obama, Clinton oversaw foreign affairs, giving her a deeper contextual understanding of military operations.

Clinton's track record, though, may have ended up doing more damage than good.

After a drawn out Iraq War, the highly-publicized Benghazi hearings and years of what many see as an unchanged Washington hierarchy, an August Washington Post piece notes Trump offered veterans "a refreshing alternative to 15 years of seemingly endless conflict marked by uncertain goals, fleeting victories and constant personal sacrifice."

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While President-elect Trump was the embodiment of change for many voters this election, his road to winning over veterans was not without potholes.

Trump received five draft deferments, four for attending college and one for a bone spur diagnosis, during the Vietnam War. Despite his own inexperience in combat, Trump attacked Sen. John McCain in 2015, saying the Arizona Republican and prisoner of war was "not a war hero" because he had been captured in Vietnam.

After the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan -- a Muslim U.S. soldier who was killed in Iraq -- spoke of their son at the Democratic National Convention, Trump struck controversy again with comments about Khan's mother who he said "maybe wasn't allowed to have anything to say."

In October, he remarked on soldiers suffering from PTSD at an event hosted by the Retired Veteran Warriors PAC saying, "a lot of people can't handle it."

Despite these controversies, Trump boasted an outpour of support from U.S. veterans. Trump won Ohio's Montgomery County, home to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, 48.4 percent to 47.1. Montgomery County voted in favor of Obama in both 2008 and 2012.

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Clinton did take North Carolina's Cumberland County, home to the Army's Fort Bragg and 42,000 veterans. It could be seen a major accomplishment in garnering veteran support to take the county harboring the world's largest military base, but the Democratic nominee only beat Trump 56.7 percent to 40.7 percent -- a margin smaller than Obama's in both 2008 and 2012. He beat McCain 58.9 percent to 41.1 percent in 2008 and Romney 59.5 percent to 39.8 percent in 2012.

See more on the election:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs lists November 11 as "a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good." As the majority of voting veterans enter the post-election season seemingly happy with results, eyes are now on Trump's many campaign promises with a focus on veteran healthcare that starts with firing officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In July of 2016, Trump spoke to a crowd at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference asserting he would be the best commander-in-chief that veterans have ever seen.

"Our debt to you is eternal," Trump said. "Yet our politicians have totally failed you."

By Christina Gregg