A Day With Fellow Vets
This past Saturday I was afforded an opportunity to speak to fellow veterans that were attending the Veterans of Foreign Wars District 5 monthly meeting held at VFW Post 549, 1884 S. Craycroft Rd in Tucson.
I've been a life member of the VFW ever since I returned from the Gulf War in 1991. After a brief five minute speech, I spent two hours talking to fellow vets and took the opportunity to highlight what I see as a window of opportunity to expand the voice of veterans in Washington by helping to elect fellow veterans. Below are some of the issues I covered:
Out of the 435 members of the House, only 106 served in the military with less than two dozen serving in combat. In the Senate only 29 served with a mere six being combat veterans. Every election those numbers drop and so does the ability to preserve the rights and benefits of America's 26 million veterans.
The current conflict, which I refer to as the "Global War on Radical Islamists" and not the Global War on Terror (Terrorism is a tactic, not an identifiable enemy) is producing a new crop of leaders that will eventually seek public office, me being one of them.
The best and brightest young people our country has to offer aren't getting ready to start school at the U of A. They're walking onto the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan; these young men and women are our future. Much like the leaders that came out of the last global struggle we fought, World War II, they are seeing first hand the sacrifice, suffering and cost of war. Their mind and bodies are being tempered and hardened by what they see. Their leadership skills are being honed daily by making life and death decisions as well as decisions that might have global consequences.
Those fighting on the front lines in this new World War are who we should be most proud of, who we must support unconditionally and who we must take care of when they come home from battle. No candidate for Congress knows this, and appreciates this more than I do. Well, I take that back, candidate Mike Jenkins, a Marine, Vietnam Veteran, and fellow "ground pounder" also knows.
There is a bond men share in battle, looking out for one another, watching your buddies back as he watches yours. As infantrymen we took that oath every time we went outside the wire and into enemy territory. I have not forgotten that oath. I may not wear the uniform anymore, but I'll go to Washington and watch their back while they fight on the front lines and I'll make sure I have their back when they come home. I will also fight for all veterans who have answered our nations call and served in battle and ensure the families of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice are taken care of.
With the words, "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan," President Lincoln affirmed the government's responsibility to care for those injured during war and provide for the families of those men that died in combat. I believe that our leaders in Washington are not living up to this responsibility.
With few combat veterans in Congress, one might understand why there seems to be a constant assault on veteran's benefits and a failure to correct decades of neglect and understaffing of the Veterans Administration that has resulted in years of backlogs for benefits. This can't be allowed to continue with the new influx of another generation of combat veterans returning from overseas.
Combat experience also comes into play when making key decisions to fund the military and the current war. Over the past three years I have seen three supplemental spending bills to fund "the war" filled with irrelevant earmarks and "plus-ups" for programs that have absolutely nothing to do with the current conflict.
Billions for programs such as the DDX Destroyer and the Joint Strike Fighter, both still in development, years from being completed and absolutely irrelevant to the fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even more money wasted on subsidies for sugar growers in Hawaii and Texas and millions more for a defense contractor that suffered "business disruptions" as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
At the same time I've seen cuts for night vision goggles, radios, vehicle parts, weapon's sights and numerous other tools that are vital to the troops on the front lines. This can only be explained by members of Congress having either no idea what our men and women need or they've been corrupted by lobbyists for the defense industry and high ranking members of the Defense Department into funding their "pet projects."
I can tell you, if a general or lobbyists approaches me and asks me to vote for a program, I'm going to look him in the eye and ask him "How will this help win the war?" If he can't tell me or he lies to me (Which is where the combat experience comes in), I will tell him to "Go fly a kite and get the hell out of my office."
The Army's premier Trauma Center and Burn Unit, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio Texas, was three months behind on its electric bill. Why did the hospital fall behind? Because the commander diverted, and rightfully so, the money for the electric bill to fund the shortfalls that developed from needing to provide medical care for hundreds of seriously wounded troops. Congress dropped the ball and failed to include money for this in the supplemental spending bill.
A private charity, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, is raising money for a "state of the art" rehabilitation center for veterans that had limbs amputated in Iraq and Afghanistan. The charity will also cover operating costs and travel expenses for their spouses.
Why does a private charity have to raise money to build such a facility? Because the Army doesn't have the money to pay for it. Why in the hell isn't the Defense Department or the Department Veterans Affairs paying for this? Why isn't Congress doing its job and stepping in to fund it?
If Congress cut the funding for one DDX destroyer ($3.5 Billion), they could build fifty rehabilitation facilities and still have money left over to operate them for decades. This lack of focus by those in Congress is unacceptable and has to stop.
We have committed this country to war and the first priority of those in the federal government should be to quit spending money on cold war era developmental programs and other pork and focus on the needs of the current conflict. We must fully fund the VA; build the VA Health Clinics in rural areas that have been promised to veterans for the past ten years; ensure our Army and Marine combat soldiers get the equipment and resources they need and quit spending money on Cold War era high priced toys.
I believe that no matter how much you lobby, advise or try to educate non-veteran members of Congress, they will never gain an appreciation of the toll combat takes on veterans both mentally and physically. Therefore, the best thing we could do to ensure our veterans get the benefits they deserve is to elect more veterans to Congress to mitigate the oversights I mentioned from happening.
Lastly I mentioned, if elected, I would be the only Iraq and Afghan War veteran serving n Congress. I would be a shoe in for the Armed Services or Veterans Affairs Committee, where I can ensure Davis-Monthan AFB and Ft Huachuca are protected from the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission as well as lead the fight for ensuring our veterans, both past, present and future, get the benefits they deserve.
The priority goes to our servicemen and our vets. Not to illegal aliens, not to the sugar growers in Hawaii, nor the wasteful spending for military developmental programs we simply do not need. I promised my fellow vets I will continue to follow the obligation of my previous occupation as a noncommissioned officer in the Army and take care of the troops. Like the old saying goes, "Mission first! Troops always!