Mia Summerson/Keene Sentinel
Keene – As a retired Army brigadier general with 33 years of service behind him, U.S. Senate hopeful Don Bolduc has maintained a focus on veterans issues.
During a campaign stop late Sunday afternoon at the VFW Post 799 in Keene, the Stratham Republican spoke to more than two dozen area voters about the importance of supporting service men and women overseas and also those who have returned home.
He touched on number of veterans and military issues during his speech, including mental health, and said incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, hasn’t done enough to help veterans struggling with mental health.
In the past decade, Bolduc said, tens of thousands of veterans have died by suicide. An average of 16.8 veterans committed suicide each day in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
“The last 33 months, I’ve been working as a veterans’ advocate, going around the state, around New England, around the country, helping veterans and their families,” he said, “trying to save lives inside a system that is so bureaucratic it can’t find its way out of a paper bag with a hole in both ends. We got to fix this, and you need someone [in Washington] that is going to have the passion to fix it.”
When asked after his address how he planned to help veterans if elected, Bolduc said he would start by “reconfiguring the VA bureaucracy.” He said the system is too big and needs to get out of the primary-care business.
He also advocated for privatizing some of the services that VA hospitals provide and enabling veterans to use their benefits at any medical facility, rather than just those that are part of the VA system.
In addition, Bolduc discussed his stance on foreign policy, saying America is viewed as weak by its adversaries, which needs to be corrected. He also said there are many things the military needs to be more effective, such as more ships for the Navy and more aircraft for the Air Force.
He told The Sentinel he’d like to see the U.S. rethink its approach to foreign affairs, starting by speaking with senior military officials to get a sense of their strategies. He said that some policies have failed, using the war in Afghanistan as an example, which has been ongoing since 2001, making it the longest war in U.S. history. He said those who served in Afghanistan performed their duties admirably, but U.S. leadership made mistakes that allowed groups like al-Qaida and ISIS to flourish.
“Between 2010 and 2013, special operation forces and conventional forces did a mission called Village Stability Operation,” Bolduc said, explaining that the mission aimed to build police forces to protect citizens of Afghanistan against extremist groups. “It was successful. In the middle of 2013, over 80 percent of Afghanistan belonged to the Afghan government, and we had the lowest casualty rates for U.S. service members since 2010. The Obama administration changed policy, and so did the Department of Defense. They got rid of that program too early.”
Speaking specifically about Afghanistan, Bolduc said a small counter-terrorism unit should be left in or near the country, but otherwise troops should be withdrawn so the Afghan government can make more decisions for itself.
However, veterans and military issues weren’t the only topics Bolduc hit on when he was in town Sunday. He spoke about education and the importance of giving parents a choice about what schools they send their kids to, argued against socialized health care and spoke in support of the Second Amendment.
Fielding questions about hot-button issues like mail-in voting and the future of Social Security, Bolduc said he opposed mail-in voting and argued that the Social Security system, in place since the mid-1930s, needs to be reimagined for future generations, who will likely live longer on average than past generations.
Bolduc’s supporters say they’re behind him because they feel the retired general can be trusted. Marlborough resident Virginia Lougee described him as someone “who comes across as honest.”
Another supporter, Mark Zuchowski, a longtime defense contractor, said the U.S. needs a government that seeks solutions rather than creates problems, and the Keene resident feels that Bolduc will work toward that end. “We need a solutions-oriented government,” Zuchowski said.
In the Republican primary on Sept. 8, Bolduc has three opponents: Gerard Beloin of Colebrook, Andy Martin of Manchester and Bryant “Corky” Messner of Wolfeboro. Democrats running for the Senate seat are Shaheen of Madbury, Tom Alciere of Hudson and Paul Krautmann of Keene. Candidates who have filed declarations of intent to appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot as third-party candidates are Justin O’Donnell of Nashua and Thomas Sharpe V of Salem.