SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Speaking to a group of veterans here, Mitt Romney sharpened his opposition to defense budget cuts by invoking the rising number of veteran suicides.
"We have huge numbers of our men and women that are returning from conflict, that are seeking counseling, psychological counseling, and can't find that counseling within our system. And, of course, record numbers of suicides. This is a crisis!" Romney said at the American Legion post.
Romney has been a staunch supporter of military spending over the course of the campaign, and usually ties his rationale to increased volatility in the Middle East, and Iran's burgeoning nuclear program — points he hit in his address Thursday as well.
Counseling makes up a relatively tiny portion of overall defense spending, of course. But by bringing up suicides, Romney is trying humanize his position, as well as appeal to veterans, who make up an important and growing constituency.
UPDATE: A Democrat with ties to the Obama campaign e-mailed BuzzFeed to flag a 2011 vote by Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, in which he opposed additional funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The motion would have provided an additional $20 million in funding to better advertise suicide prevention assistance and services offered to veterans.
Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck dismissed the vote in question, and pointed to the budget Ryan authored in the House as evidence of his support for veterans.
“This vote was nothing more than partisan procedural game-playing by House Democrats. The House budget provided more funding for America’s veterans than President Obama’s. A Romney administration will always ensure those who’ve sacrificed so much for us have the support and funding they have earned.”