Congressman and military veteran Seth Moulton speaks at UI while considering 2020 presidential bid

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. who is considering a presidential bid, spoke at the Boyd Law Center Friday afternoon on public service and veterans issues.


David Harmantas

Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) speaks at the University of Iowa College of Law on Friday, Mar. 29, 2019. Moulton spoke on the importance of public service at a talk sponsored by the Law School’s Veterans Law Association. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Julia DiGiacomo, Politics Reporter

Potential presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., professed the value of public service and advocated for veterans in an event hosted by the Veterans Legal Association Friday afternoon.

Moulton, 40, is testing the waters in Iowa as he considers a 2020 presidential bid. Moulton spoke to an audience of about 40 in the University of Iowa Boyd Law Building, where he chronicled his political journey and answered a range of policy questions.

He’s been traveling to early caucus states like Iowa and South Carolina to meet with groups of veterans and college students and hear their ideas, he said.

“I haven’t decided yet if I’m running,” Moulton said to the crowd in Iowa City.  “It’s a family decision for me because I have a five and a half month old at home and a wife with her own successful career. So we’ve got a lot of work to do as a family to figure this out.”

Moulton has represented Massachusetts in the U.S. House since 2015. He formerly served as an infantry platoon commander in the Marine Corps, where he served four tours in Iraq beginning in 2001. Veterans affairs has emerged as a central issue for him.

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He said he’s strongly advocated for decriminalizing marijuana in Massachusetts and thinks expanding cannabis options for veterans is an ideal place to start. Many veterans prefer using cannabis in lieu of opioids for conditions such as PTSD to avoid addiction, he said, and there’s a reason opioid addiction is lower in states with legalized marijuana.

Moulton used the story of a veteran friend struggling to access timely resources for suicide as a key reason to expand health services offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

He said he continues to get his health care through the VA and has witnessed firsthand that the system has a long way to go.

“There’s so much more to do,” Moulton said. “ It’s something we should all agree on. No matter what your political belief, Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, Democratic Socialist, we should take care of other people who risk their lives for us.”

Terry Philips, and commissioner for the Washington County Veterans Affairs, said there are still 20 veterans a day committing suicide. He said he agreed with Moulton’s statements on expanding VA health care since it remains limited.

Philips said Moulton’s work getting veterans involved in politics also stood out to him.

Moulton founded a PAC, Serve America, to support Democratic veterans running for office. Of the 40 seats that Democrats flipped to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, Moulton said 21 were candidates he backed and 10 were veterans he intensively mentored.

“We’ve always had veterans in politics and that’s a good thing,” Philips said. “But actually getting them involved because they’re a veteran can contribute a lot.”

Declared presidential hopefuls also have military experience. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg served as a Navy Lieutenant and was deployed for a seven-month stint in Afghanistan in 2014. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard in 2003 while serving in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

UI Senior Alex Jaime, who is commissioning into the military in May, said he appreciated when Moulton spoke about the importance of giving freshman congressmen a voice and considering fresh ideas for the Democratic party.

“I knew [Moulton] before I came to this event,” he said. “He has the bronze star, which is an award given in combat and he didn’t mention it once so I think that’s very humble of him. Not many soldiers earn it.”