At a veterans’ town hall Friday night, he railed against problems in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, called for reforms to veterans’ health care and said the Pentagon ought to be audited.
Heads started nodding as DeSantis criticized the language the Obama administration has used to describe the military’s role in the Middle East.
As an example, he pointed to the 31-year-old Charlie Keating IV — whose mother lives in DeSantis’ northeast Florida congressional district. Keating was killed early this month in northern Iraq, as the Obama administration continues to downplay Americans’ combat role on the ground in fighting the Islamic State.
“It’s a lie,” one woman in the crowd said.
“This stuff about not being in combat, or if you’re special forces, you’re not boots on the ground,” DeSantis said, “that is utter hogwash.”
DeSantis was a legal advisor to Navy SEAL teams in Iraq as part of the Judge Advocate General Corps. In recent weeks, he has been working to build up support with Tampa Bay’s veteran community.
Friday’s event at the Cuban Club in Tampa was sponsored by Concerned Veterans for America, a nonprofit group that says it is nonpartisan but which has been linked to the Koch brothers and other conservative political donors. It wasn’t a campaign event (the group invited him because he is a sitting congressman, though his district is in the northeastern part of the state).
DeSantis is one of five Republicans running to replace Marco Rubio in the Senate: U.S. Rep. David Jolly, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, developer Carlos Beruff and Army veteran Todd Wilcox.