|VMW Government Affairs Lead Story|
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The Impetus for a 21st Century Veterans Fund
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) have proven yet again America’s willingness to commit troops and treasure to achieve a measure of global stability and to achieve a measure of safety for American citizens in a dangerous world. Our men and women in uniform have proven time and again their undaunted courage and sacrifice in meeting the call to duty, despite three and four and five deployments to combat zones. Media reports have enabled all of us to witness the overt consequences of war: the shattered bodies and damaged psyches of thousands of our servicemen and -women. Yet it is the unforeseen costs of the human toll of war that now poises our nation on the brink of a social and economic crisis the consequences of which we can only guess at.
Today, Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) convened a hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to examine the potential implications of non-action in regard to what is a very real crisis, a crisis that can neither be denied nor underplayed. Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, co-authors of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, presented their revised analysis of the cost of the current campaigns to our nation. The desired outcome is to introduce legislation that would establish what Mr. Filner and military and veteran stakeholders are calling a “21st Century Veterans Fund.” This fund, if enacted, would mandate Congress to live up to its national obligation, to acknowledge that caring for veterans is, and must be, a continuing cost of the national defense.
American business owners are required by law to use "accrual" accounting, a system that shows future costs as they are incurred, not when they are actually spent. Unfortunately, when it comes to funding the residuals of combat operations, we do so now via promissory notes, which have both moral and fiscal significance. They include providing high-quality care for the wounded, assuaging the traumatized, and comforting the bereaved. These are not inexpensive undertakings. Consider the first Gulf War. It cost relatively little to prosecute. But of its nearly 700,000 veterans, 45 percent have filed disability compensation claims, 88 percent of which were favorably adjudicated. Disability compensation for these veterans now runs $4.3 billion annually, in addition to the tens of thousands who now receive their health care at VA facilities. And there are some 250,000 more veterans who continue to await the results of their undiagnosed illness claims for the environmental wounds of modern warfare.
There are several reasons why Americans are not yet feeling the fiscal pinch. Measuring costs in the billions of dollars is, for most of us, an abstraction. And by putting off paying for the initial costs of war, as well as for the ongoing costs of caring for veterans and compensating them for disabilities suffered as a result of their military service are paying on the never-never principle: Rather than raise taxes, our elected leaders in essence hide the true costs of war by paying by off-budget supplemental appropriations and by running up the deficit. Rather than set aside money to cover the costs of veterans' benefits, or significantly invest in the entities of government that will administer them, our elected leaders are passing off the debt to our grandchildren. American citizens should be entitled to a conscientious estimate of how much a war or foreign intervention will likely cost, and as a particular conflict continues, a true account of how much it will likely burden future generations.
Research shows that it usually takes years from the time a veteran starts experiencing health problems to when s/he actually seeks a cure. In between the onset and the treatment, the veteran's maladies often grow much worse. Mental health professionals say crime, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness and other issues will only escalate. They say the victims won't only be combat veterans: their families and communities will suffer as well.
Consider now the still smoldering conflict in Iraq and the escalating fighting in Afghanistan. How heavily will they burden the American treasury -- the American taxpayer -- over the next decade? Are we as a nation prepared and equipped to meet the oncoming deluge? Do we have enough resources, enough clinicians and mental health professionals to treat those who have been harmed in these conflicts? How does the equation multiply if we are forced to fight an enemy on another front?
In an attempt to meet what will undoubtedly be significant and mounting financial obligations, the 21st Century Veterans Fund would mandate the Secretary of the Treasury to deposit 15 percent of the total amount appropriated to the Department of Defense, which shall be made available to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs without fiscal year limitation. Initially, the Fund will create a surplus which will continue to grow over subsequent fiscal year appropriations. Eventually, our nation should be poised to react to any of the mounting unforeseen costs of modern warfare. This should ensure that the entity of government with prime responsibility for caring for our nation's veterans will have adequate resources to care for them years after the fighting has, hopefully, ended.
Please sign the Declaration to Support the 21st Century Veterans Trust Fund Today...Congress must fund the warrior as well as the war!!!
is a 100 percent combat disabled veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He currently serves as executive director for Veterans of Modern Warfare (VMW) a 501(c)19 National Wartime Veterans Service Organization.
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