This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 15 March 2012.
At a time when over 2.5 million American men and women have been added to the rolls of combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Veteran’s Affairs Committees of both the U.S. House and Senate have agreed to cap budget increases for the Department of Veterans Affairs. There is bipartisan agreement that despite America's having more returning veterans than it has had since the end of WWII, the recent end of the Iraq War, and an imminent drawdown in Afghanistan, the VA will have to meet this increase in need with a flat budget. Congress cannot agree on anything, but they agree that our newest veterans should sacrifice more for the country at a time when they need support the most.
Last week, I was informed by the VA that a record number of veterans have applied for GI Bill benefits, so many that it would take six weeks to process requests. This should surprise no one as multi-tour veterans such as myself leave the military after a decade at war and seek to enter the civilian world with a job market, never friendly to veterans, which has turned even more bearish since the 2008 downturn. Unemployment among young veterans is around 30%. Hundreds of thousands have been wounded or suffered health issues due to one or more combat tours. Problems with PTSD, TBI, depression, and alcohol abuse have developed into an unspoken suicide crisis among soldiers and veterans.
In a joint letter to the budget ‘Super-Committee’ signed by the chairmen and ranking members of the Veteran’s Affairs Committees of both the House and Senate, it was stated “we believe no constituency better understands the challenge America faces, and no constituency is better suited to, again, lead by example by putting country first.” The letter was signed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA). Veterans are being called upon by Congress to sacrifice for the country yet again. Both parties seem willing to let it happen.
America’s veterans are being thrown under the bus by those who are supposed to represent them, showing vets only get paid ‘lip service’ by Congress. None of these members, despite their committee assignment, ever served a day in uniform. The only member of the committee to ever serve is Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Yet, most of them represent military and veteran-heavy districts. It may result from having the most veteran-underrepresented Congress since WWII, with only around 20% ever serving.
Veterans have already sacrificed a great deal for the country when they wore the uniform, but now they’re being asked to sacrifice more after they’ve left and returned to private citizenship. The difference between veteran’s benefits and other benefits is that they’re earned and not given. They’re not awarded because veterans simply paid in to the system; they’re awarded because we fought, were hurt, and would have died for the country if called upon.
How much more must America’s veterans sacrifice for you?