Home inFocus Campaign Season ­­– Issues on the Trail (Summer 2016) American Veterans: Their Challenge to Us

American Veterans: Their Challenge to Us

Larry Provost Summer 2016
President Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill into law on June 22, 1944 (Photo: FDR Library)

Many of the challenges Veterans face while in military service are precisely what make them great leaders in the home, in the workplace, and in the public arena.  It is the challenges that Veterans face upon returning home that need to continuously be addressed by the citizenry they fought to keep safe.

Members of the military are placed in stressful situations from the moment they arrive in service.  They are given an extraordinary amount of information to learn, quite often while being yelled at, and they generally do not have enough time to take in everything they are taught.  This is intentional. If someone cannot take the rigors of basic training there is no way they will be able to take the even more difficult rigors of combat.

Amazingly, these volunteers not only complete their initial training, filled with 12-18 hour days, to include weekends, but also learn the basics of a brand new and important job; sometimes in as little as six weeks of advanced training.  The responsibility placed at their fingertips, to literally hold life and death in their hands, is greater than most Americans will ever hold.  Even more amazing is to consider is that this responsibility is entrusted to military members sometimes as young as 17 years of age.

This is not a responsibility that is seen only in wartime.  Live fire exercises, training missions, and the health and welfare of those of a lesser rank are responsibilities of the soldier on the home front.  They live this stuff 24/7.

They learn to kill and justifiably so.  They also learn when not to kill, for theirs, like the IDF, is an ethical military.  Don’t think so?  How many times do you see the terrorists fighting our heroes stop in the midst of battle to save a child?  Never.  But we do that.  One little known fact is that in triage when an enemy is wounded worse than an American service member, that enemy receives priority of treatment.

The training and values of our military members make them very adaptable from the battlefield to the operating room.  Throughout all this, a brother/sisterhood develops amongst the different service members.  Their experiences are shared in a deeper and different way than others will ever know.

These traits of heavy responsibility, punctuality, adaptability, a strong sense of mission and brother/sisterhood, is precisely what makes military members such strong candidates to lead on the home front; whether it is with their families, at a job, or in the public arena.  Most Veterans, whether they leave the military before retiring or leave once retiring, will continue to make America great in their civilian capacities.

Challeges on the Homefront

Once military members leave the service, a whole new set of challenges face them as Veterans, stemming from readjustment to civilian society to getting they care they need for their military injuries.  The issues surrounding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the stigmas surrounding it are very real.  Ask a Veteran who has claimed PTSD, even from many years previous, who applies for a law enforcement position and you will get the point.

While not downplaying the importance of these challenges by any stretch, as the VA scandals can attest to, it is worth noting in defense of our Veterans that the positive attributes and skills gained in service lead most Veterans go on to become greatly successful in measurable and immeasurable ways within the civilian world.

One of the biggest challenges Veterans are facing today is not one that is evident on the surface, but it is no less real to those who have worn the uniform of our great nation.  Today,  Veterans are validly questioning the commitment the government has made to them in terms of their care, their earned benefits compared to the rest of the population, and even their mission.

The VA hospital scandals have highlighted what is not just an issue within the Department of Veterans Affairs, but an apathetic view by many in power towards Veterans.  The VA has not been up to the task of caring for our nation’s Veterans as it should, and those who have served our country died, not in combat, but from neglect.

Even in this atmosphere, there is a misperception in some circles of power that military members and Veterans receive too many benefits compared to the rest of the population. Case in point, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is under attack and is considered by a select few to be “too generous.”  This thought process is utter rubbish on several levels.

First, members of the military earned their benefits in war and in peace.  They do not get to call in sick.  They show up to work daily, including Saturdays and Sundays, leading to a great deal of time away from their families even when they are not in war.  During my last deployment to Afghanistan, I had one day off.  That was one more day off than during my Iraq deployment and one more day off than most soldiers have during war.  War does not take a break and peacetime is not much easier.  The military mantra is, and must be, “the more one sweats in peace the less they bleed in war.”

The GI Bill is not a handout program but a deferred benefit, earned by those who usually do more by 9 a.m. than most people do in a day.  The GI Bill is also an investment in individuals that have shown a willingness to put up with what would make most people quit.  The GI Bill is just as good, if not better than a tax break, as the same people that exercised due diligence on the battlefield can surely be trusted in the classroom.  We do not always know what some will do with their tax break, or welfare payment, but we know what recipients will do with their GI Bill benefit.  The GI Bill is many things, but the last thing it can be called is a handout to the freeloader.

Second, the military is always cut after wars; almost always to our detriment.  Personnel and weapons systems go by the wayside while the nation moves on. Now, the government has done the unthinkable by cutting the military in wartime to a point to where the Army is at its lowest level of troops since the year before American entry into World War II.  Funding the military is one place of government spending that gets a return on its investment and it should be the last place to be cut.  Even when war ends, training must begin and training cannot happen without funding. However, this is not happening.

Third, the military is being cut while little, if anything else, is being cut from the federal budget.  Certainly nothing of comparable substance is being cut.  People of various stripes will disagree on whether the military should be cut, but to do so during wartime is a slap in the face.  It hurts the morale of our fighting men and women deeply, as well as their Veteran brothers and sisters, especially when the rest of the American public, led by its political figures, has been asked to sacrifice absolutely nothing.

Our Debt to Pay

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the American people were asked to give blood and go shopping.  Americans obliged and helped to repair a shaky economy.  However, that is all we were asked to do.  Americans always step up, but in this case we were asked to give only a little.  Now is the time to ask sacrifice.  If the government has the audacity to cut military benefits, especially in wartime, then it must cut spending in other areas that are more pressing, and ultimately, a lot more draining on the treasury of the nation.

Government spending is so out of control that the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has said that the national debt is the nation’s most pressing national security issue.  What does this mean for members of the military and Veterans?  It is certainly an issue of great concern for them because Veterans are not one dimensional, even if laser focused on the task at hand.  They focus on completing their mission in order to get home.  They are also concerned about what home looks like and what type of community and nation they live in.

The military has often led the way for society whether it has been in preventing wars through strength, technological innovation (nuclear energy, the internet, GPS) or achieving racial integration.  A sad legacy it is that the military may have to lead the way in cost cutting measures for the country, but as it seems the military has been tasked with this role and the obligation of the rest of the nation, led by its politicians, is to follow.  Government programs, whether abolished or modified, must be drastically trimmed to not only the future sustainability of those programs (Americans are having fewer children than are needed to ensure this sustainability) but also the military strength and long term financial health of the country.  Eventually, this bubble will burst unless something is done very soon.

Without a strong economy, we cannot have a strong military or a strong country.  Without a strong country, the Veteran will often wonder, often silently but with great pensiveness, whether their sacrifice was worth it.  We must not let them down.  They have given too much for us not to sacrifice on their behalf and if the current politicians cannot get it right, hopefully more Veterans will join the ranks of the legislatures and the Congress.

For some it is a stretch to say that the financial sustainability of the nation is a challenge facing our Veterans, but it is, and not just because of Admiral Mullen’s comments.  Veterans see the unwillingness of our leaders to face up to our grave and pending problems in a forthright manner while asking its military heroes to risk life and limb in the most forthright of all manners: combat.   It is hypocrisy at the worst level and it hurts our Veterans to see that from those “leaders” who have sacrificed much less.

The public must embrace the Veteran by sharing a common sacrifice.   A declining segment of American citizens hold the privilege of having served their nation in uniform.  This decline has been exacerbated by military budget cuts, threatened cuts to the GI Bill, VA scandals, and other issues.  Many joined the military because it was a calling.  More feel that way once they are in the service.  For all members the day in and day out of the military is a way of life and that always stays with our Veterans.

If we do not do our part for them, by taking care of them and taking care of the country they fought to defend, it is legitimate to wonder whether people will be ready and willing to fight for such a nation in the future.  Our Veterans deserve much more than mixed message.  At home, Veterans should not have to go back and forth between war and peace.  Let us give them peace.