DeSantis calls for ‘care portal’ for veterans, criticizes media coverage of Gaza hospital explosion

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DUBUQUE — Highlighting his own military service, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis spoke Saturday about his plans to shift resources for veterans to non-government entities.

DeSantis hosted a “Veterans for DeSantis” event at a VFW in Dubuque Saturday morning. The Florida governor served in the U.S. Navy as a judge advocate general, including a deployment in Iraq.

He said he understands the difficulties people leaving military service face getting needed support. When he left the U.S. military, DeSantis said he was given a packet of resources available to veterans — but that accessing any of those services would mean “red tape” and bureaucracy.

He said the government needs to do more to connect veterans with the support systems being provided by businesses, non-profits and volunteers.

“Government (should be) making these connections and then really just getting out of the way and let the good people of this country do their work,” DeSantis said.

If elected president, DeSantis said he would pursue a similar support network for veterans that he set up as governor of Florida for social services. He pointed to the “Hope Florida” program that he and his wife, Casey DeSantis, have spearheaded in Florida for social services. In the past year and a half, DeSantis said, the program has taken 8,000 Floridians “completely off the welfare system” and onto a “pathway to self-sufficiency.”

“The lesson from that is government is serving as a facilitator to bring in all the great resources that we have in this country … to be able to step up to help people in need,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to be able to apply that same model with veterans’ benefits.”

John Thompson, the founder and president of “Salute to the Fallen,” a Cedar Rapids nonprofit providing crisis services for veterans, said he supported DeSantis for president. Thompson said the world is a more “dangerous place” now than it was in 2001, and said that veterans who served in combat have a different view on the both the international and domestic issues facing America.

“We have the most unique perspective,” Thompson said of veterans. “We got to see the atrocities the world could throw at its own people. As a commander-in-chief, DeSantis will take his experience as a veteran and make our country safer, and foreign politics a lot better.”

DeSantis drew comparisons between Israel’s fight against Hamas and his experience in the U.S. military fighting al-Qaeda and ISIS. He said the Palestinian militant group in control of the Gaza Strip has reached a “new depth of depravity” compared to other terrorist organizations in their actions against Israel .

He criticized American media that reported that Israel military forces bombed a hospital in the Gaza Strip, saying that western media attributed the attack to Israel because of a “press release from Hamas.”

The Palestinian health ministry attributed the explosion at Al Ahli Arab Hospital to an Israeli airstrike, but Israel officials said the attack was a result of a failed rocket launch by Hamas forces. On Wednesday, U.S. officials seconded Israel’s claim based on analysis of  “overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told reporters this week the U.S. does not believe an international investigation into the incident is “appropriate at this time.”

DeSantis said Saturday the media’s coverage of the issue was “disgraceful journalism,” and said that America needs to not capitulate to critics casting doubt on Israel’s military actions. While both Democrats and Republicans have pledged their support to Israel during the conflict, he said  American politicians need to remain committed to supporting Israel’s “right to defend themselves.”

“If you have your own people just being butchered by a terrorist group whose goal is to wipe you off the map entirely, you can’t just do a couple glancing blows and then hope that they start to behave themselves. They’re not,” DeSantis said. “You’ve got to go all in and you need the complete destruction of Hamas. And that’s what they should do. ”

DeSantis was on a two-day swing through eastern Iowa, including attending U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ fundraiser Friday in Iowa City. The Iowa Republican hosted seven presidential candidates.

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