David Anthony Jaramillo, 32, a Waco-based Marine veteran and former Veterans Administration employee, seeks to become the Democratic nominee in the November general election to succeed Republican Congressman Bill Flores in representing Congressional District 17. He pledges reform of veterans benefits, including prompt delivery of those benefits; comprehensive health-care benefits for all; and prison reform arising from his experience in the criminal justice field, including the Bill Logue Juvenile Justice Center. He supports border security, primarily through a virtual border wall bolstered by technological advances eclipsing any shortcomings in a physical wall. During our editorial board interview, we found Jaramillo concise, straightforward in his policy stances but with little elaboration or rumination.
Q Why are you running?
A My time in the Marine Corps taught me many things and one of the most important things it taught me is never back down from something you believe in. I couldn’t stand idly by watching what’s happening in our government any longer. I want to fight for things such as health care for all, prison and immigration reform, VA disability and compensation reform.
Q Your campaign bio says you were deployed to Iraq in 2005.
A That was 2008. I actually went there before but not for a full deployment. I was on a full deployment to Iraq from 2008 to 2009, but I also went to Iraq [earlier], not for a full deployment.
Q What can you tell us about the fight in Iraq that might add to a better understanding of the United States’ decision to invade it and how well we did? By the time you got there, we were obviously involved in a lot of nation-building that has been very controversial. Yet when I have talked with veterans who served in Iraq, that’s one thing they’re very proud of.
What do you think we got right and what did we get wrong?
A What we got right was definitely being able to help rebuild the area, the [defense] forces out there. That way they can take care of themselves. However, this [U.S. involvement there] is going on 19 years and we actually have service members now that are being deployed that weren’t even born during the conflict. So to me it’s time to bring the troops home. Invest that money in local infrastructure and education and health care for our people.
Q Was it a good idea to go over there in the first place? It has been suggested that in toppling Saddam Hussein we threw the balance of power out of whack in the Middle East, allowing Iran to grow stronger by virtue of eliminating Sunni leadership in Iraq in favor of Shia leadership. Does any of this make sense to you?
A No, I understand what you’re saying. Saddam was a dictator. He was a bad person inside and out. People like him and Osama bin Laden needed to get the power taken away from them — not necessarily their lives. I mean, for Saddam Hussein, we left that up to the people. However, he was oppressing his own people. He was allowing things to happen that shouldn’t happen out there. So doing that, we were able to make sure that we were safe, make sure we weren’t being attacked any longer.
Q After eight years in the Marines, it looks like you decided to pursue a career in criminal justice. How did that come about?
A Actually I had two things that I wanted to pursue in the future — psychology, and that was to benefit veterans and children. I felt a good way to pursue that would be to get firsthand experience working at a juvenile justice facility. So I worked at the Bill Logue Juvenile Justice Center here in Waco at their bootcamp program. So I got to see the ins and outs of what happens on a daily basis and how, not in a negative way, but how they’re treated. And so I was able to see what exactly goes into rehabilitation efforts. So seeing that firsthand, I understand that we need more rehabilitation for the children as well as adults in the system.
Q Why then did you jump to the Department of Veterans Affairs?
A Again, I wanted to work with veterans in some way, shape or form. I actually started off with health benefits. I was able to contact veterans, explain their benefits, what their doctor visits would be like, co-pays if there were co-pays based off of their disability rating. From there I was actually hired on at the regional office where I worked until I resigned.
Q Did you reach any conclusions about veterans health care during that process?
Waco was one of the places that didn’t get high marks initially in terms of prompt delivery of health care to veterans. I remember Congressman Flores talking quite a bit about it. Why do you think the VA has had a long struggle with this problem? We still hear from veterans about this.
A It’s the lack of doctors that’s causing the main issues. And the reason why we have a lack of doctors is because we can’t compete with the private sector versus pay. So we need to be able to juggle that, to make a compromise in a sense, to be able to have more doctors. What I propose is that we actually make a contract with new doctors at medical schools and say, “For five to seven years, based on your specialty work for the Department of Veteran Affairs, we defer your student loans. And after the five to seven years, we’ll waive your student loans.” That will leave a constant supply of doctors in the existing facilities and we can open up rural clinics. That way we can have veterans care.
Q I noticed on your website you only have two topics under the heading of “Issues” — health care and veterans benefits. Isn’t that kind of narrow, given all the problems we face today?
A I do have more issues.
Another big thing is prison and immigration reform. For prison reform, we have become a country of investing in longer sentences when what we need to do is reduce those sentences and invest more in rehabilitation such as education and on-the-job training. That way when we send somebody back to society, they have all the tools necessary to make them a successful part of society. In immigration, we have less than 500 immigration judges currently working on a huge backlog, not including what’s piling up at this moment. So what we need to do is, at the very least, hire more immigration judges. That way we can start tackling the backlog, we can start tackling the paper copies and electronic copies coming in for immigration.
Q What do you think of the First Step Act signed by the president? Sen. John Cornyn helped craft it. We thought it was a significant step forward in criminal justice.
A I don’t really have too many opinions on that. Can you go a little more into detail? That way I’m making sure I know what—
Q The First Step Act signed by the president generally expands rehab programs in prisons. There are specific programs to battle recidivism. And Sen. Cornyn has said that it actually draws a lot on Texas criminal justice models and how Texas manages prisons and prison populations.
Q I mean, if you’re not familiar with it, let’s move on.
A No, I am. I just want to make sure I was understanding correctly. Which is a great thing. We do need to invest in rehabilitation. However, we’re still pushing for maximum sentences and this is not just a local issue. This is nationally. So what we need to do is, on a national level, we need to do more to invest in rehabilitation. Again, on-the-job training, education for prisoners.
Q OK. A recent survey confirms that health care is the biggest concern for veterans — 53% of veterans said they had chronic physical conditions, 33% said they had chronic mental health conditions. The most common conditions were chronic pain, sleep problems, anxiety and depression. More than half said satisfaction with their own health declined within months of leaving the service. The study suggested it’s important for veterans to become readjusted to society quickly.
A I want to kind of go on both sides of active duty as well as the veteran side. While on active duty, we have a thing we call TAPs [Transition Assistance Program] and it’s kind of just, this is what happens when you get out. It’s a program and it’s there to basically let you know what’s going to happen about VA, about some jobs, if you want to do education. However, what it lacks is more of the preparation of the mental effects of coming out. So when you come out, and knowing from personal experience, you feel a little isolated from everybody because you’re used to a certain routine. You’re used to having everybody around you who’s gone through the same things. That’s a huge problem. We need to have more counseling.
Q President Trump has been impeached over matters relating to the delay of security assistance funding to the Ukraine, which is an ally under attack by Russia. Let’s put aside the impeachment. We can all agree to disagree on impeachment. Do you support the freezing of congressionally approved funding by this president and all presidents, Republican or Democrat, going forward?
A No. If it’s for our allies, we have it allocated for a reason. Any change in that needs to be approved. We have checks and balances for a reason in our federal government.
Q There’s been the suggestion made that presidents have the right to hold up congressionally approved funding to evaluate whether the money’s going to be applied in perhaps a corrupt manner or not.
A It still strikes me as inappropriate. Any sort of change from the allocation of funds should be approved by Congress.
Q You’re no longer working for the VA right now?
A No, I had to resign due to [running for office].
Q Oh, that’s scary. I saw in your campaign that you have two kids. How are you doing in terms of livelihood and health insurance?
A We have a little nest egg built up and we’re watching how we spend money. I actually sold my car to help out.
Q Has your wife come after you with a rolling pin yet?
A No. I sat down before I did this with her and I said, “This is something I need to do. I definitely need to help our veterans and our people.” And she understood and she agreed. And she supported me.
Q Is there a common theme that runs through your conversations with potential constituents?
A It’s things like the infrastructure. If you’ve taken a drive through Mart lately, they have some pretty Grand-Canyon-sized potholes. And so they want their roads fixed. And also going to the rural areas, they want doctors. They want to be able to see a doctor without having to drive 40, 45 minutes to an hour to go see that specific doctor that’s covered under their insurance. That’s the things we hear. That’s a common thing.
Interview conducted by Trib editor Steve Boggs and opinion editor Bill Whitaker. It has been condensed for space and edited for clarity.
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