It's easy for presidential candidates to pose with veterans on a flag-filled stage and promise to take care of those who fought for our country.
But with the nation watching, in their first two debates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have mentioned veterans a grand total of two times as often as they have said "Big Bird," the military newspaper Stars and Stripes noted Wednesday.
Whoever wins the White House can't ignore veterans. There are nearly 22 million, including 2 million in California, and more than 1 million nationwide are expected to join their ranks in the next five years.
The candidates have an opportunity in their third and final debate Monday, focused on foreign policy, to clearly lay out their agendas for veterans. The challenges are clear:
Veterans, particularly younger ones who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, need more targeted job programs. In September, the unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans stood at 9.7 percent. While that number has been declining, it remains significantly higher than the overall rate of 7.8 percent.
Obama secured new tax credits last year for businesses that hire vets. He also proposed a Veterans Jobs Corps $1 billion over five years to put as many as 20,000 veterans to work as police officers and firefighters and on conservation projects. But in September, Senate Republicans blocked the plan, objecting to its cost and funding.
Romney does not propose a specific jobs program for vets, but says that veterans' unemployment is unacceptably high and that helping all Americans looking for work will be his highest priority.
Veterans should get broader access to higher education and have an easier time transferring military training into civilian life.
Obama backed the expanded post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill, which, as of March, had given $17.5 billion in benefits to more than 710,000 veterans and family members. Also, the president signed an executive order this year to crack down on for-profit schools that prey on veterans.
Romney pledges to work with states so that veterans can pay lower in-state tuition at public universities anywhere, not just where they live. He also wants to create nationwide credentialing standards for those who gained specialized skills while in the military.
Treatment and research into traumatic brain injury the "signature" wound of Iraq and Afghanistan require sustained attention, as do post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention.
Obama has directed the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make mental health a priority, hiring more than 3,500 professionals since 2009 with a goal to add 1,600 more by next June. On Obama's watch, the VA budget has nearly doubled.
Romney says he would increase access to mental health professionals by opening the VA's TRICARE network for military retirees to all vets.
The VA has to get much better and faster handling claims for disability benefits. While Iraq and Afghanistan vets are filing more claims, the delays are inexcusable. One of the worst backlogs is at the Oakland office that processes claims from across the valley and Northern California.
Obama ordered the VA to continue improving training and technology to speed claims, and is seeking funding for more staff.
Romney vows to reduce bureaucratic "red tape" and calls for a single electronic medical record that would follow a service member "from boot camp to retirement."
Campaign pledges are all well and good. What matters is paying more than lip service to veterans once in office.