What veterans think of their options for the next commander-in-chief

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Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars salute as they recite the pledge of allegiance during their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane - RTSJQG7

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HARI SREENIVASAN: And now we turn to another voting bloc in the presidential election, veterans.

This week, the candidates who are vying to become the next commander in chief courted that vote.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump briefly paused their debate over immigration this week to address to the American Legion.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: As the daughter of a veteran, as a proud American, I am grateful to you all.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: The men and women of the American Legion represent the best, absolute best of America, strength, courage, selfless devotion.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The candidates voiced their commitment to veterans and their families, and also took the chance to go after each other.

But what do the men and women that served in uniform think of their options for president?

Bob Simpson is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam.

BOB SIMPSON, Veteran: I vote for Trump all the way. It seems to be the general case amongst all of us veterans, not every one of course, but most of us probably pull to the Trump side.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Gene Miller, a former Marine, also served in Vietnam.

GENE MILLER, Veteran: I believe that Donald Trump is the one that’s best suited over Hillary. I believe that Mr. Trump has several attributes that is on record as far as knowing the military. He’s up to speed on the military. He talks a tough game.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Two recent polls found that Trump holds a significant advantage among veterans, 14 percent in one poll and 11 percent in another. But when asked who they feel would be the most supportive of veterans, overall, likely voters feel the candidates are even.

Navy veteran Kia Hamel says Clinton’s support is strongest with recent veterans.

KIA THOMAS HAMEL, Veteran: Younger veterans, different ethnicities, females, LGBT community are coming out for Secretary Clinton, because she’s more of a progressive candidate.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hamel one of the first women to serve on the aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz, supports Clinton.

KIA THOMAS HAMEL: She is not going to be a person that’s going to be very careless and want to use nuclear weapons just because she’s insulted. And that’s the kind of person that we need at the helm.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Both candidates have stumbled in dealing with veterans issues. Last summer, Trump responded to Senator John McCain, calling his supporters crazies.

DONALD TRUMP: He lost. He let us down. But, you know, he lost. So I have never liked him as much after that, because I don’t like losers. But, Frank, let me get to it.

MAN: He’s a war hero. He’s a war hero.

DONALD TRUMP: He’s not a war hero.

MAN: He’s a war hero.

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP: He’s a war hero — he’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK, I hate to tell you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And when the father of a Muslim American soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004 condemned Trump’s rhetoric at this year’s Democratic Convention, Trump attacked the Goldman Sachs family on television and social media in the following days.

Clinton upset some veterans answering questions last October about negligent medical care in certain VA hospitals.

HILLARY CLINTON: Overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment.

WOMAN: More so than people in the regular system.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: That’s exactly right. Now, nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see and the constant berating of the VA that comes from Republicans, in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda.

WOMAN: But, in part, because there has been real scandal.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: There has been, but it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Veterans like Bob Simpson and Gene Miller say they’re also concerned about Clinton’s response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state.

BOB SIMPSON: If that had been any one of us with the computers, with Benghazi, we’d have been in the jail and they would’ve thrown the key away.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For Kia Hamel, the biggest concern about Donald Trump is what she says is a lack knowledge about world affairs.

KIA THOMAS HAMEL: I think that he’s more of a danger because of the fact that he doesn’t know enough about the situations to make an educated decision.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Hari Sreenivasan in Washington.

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