Tuesday was Veterans' Day and it has come and gone with the usual fanfare of parades and tributes.
If this is your first time visiting my corner of the Internet, a brief piece about my background. I served in the United States Navy from 2002-08. I was a nuclear mechanical operator stationed aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) from 2004-08. I did a deployment to the Persian Gulf in 2005. Upon my return to the states, I was in the Virginia shipyards for the remainder of my brief Navy career. During my time in Virginia, I played a role in assisting the ship during Reactor Complex Overhaul (RCOH) where we took out the two nuclear reactors and replaced them with two brand new ones along with performing other critical maintenance that extended the life of the ship for another quarter of a century.
I am passionate about Veterans issues ranging from ensuring that our benefits are honored and finding ways to improve upon them to my small efforts to help repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and that ALL military families are recognized to ensuring that we continue a responsible drawdown from Afghanistan and make sure that we use our military and other instruments of foreign policy responsibly.
In the past year, Veterans issues have been in the spotlight.
During the Senator Ted Cruz (TX, R) led and Republican backed government shutdown in October 2013, the Veterans Administration closed their regional offices and their call centers during this time period. The shutdown happened while I took a class on American Foreign Policy and Introduction To Mathematical Analysis, both featured Veterans like myself.
I listened to an Army Reservist after my American Foreign Policy class talk about how he is feeling the pinch of the Republican led Government Shutdown. He has the benefit of the Post-9/11 GI Bill but had the government continued its shutdown, things would have gotten uncomfortable for him as he had bills to pay. Another service member in the math classes was a former Navy Nuke like myself, but she was a reactor operator and she also not pleased with the government shutdown either.
It should be noted that this shutdown was avoidable and it was unprecedented in that it was the first time that a government shutdown occurred when we had active ongoing military operations. Right now we are expanding our military operations into combating the Islamic State (known as: ISIS/ISIL/IS) and there is the usual political posturing about whether we should have a debate on going to war.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 as well as the War Powers Resolution of 1973 states that war making decision is vested in the legislative branch and not the executive as many people think. Yes, the president is the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces as it says in Article II, Section 2, but the constitutional framers had the vision to place the decision to go to war in a body of many and not in one person. Over the last half century, the decision of war and peace has drifted away from our constitutional requirements and into the hands of a few in the executive branch.
Jack Kingston will soon be out of a job because he opted to run for the US Senate in Georgia. Before Congress took 7 weeks off prior to the election, Kingston made it known what Congress' priorities were on debating and voting on war:
“A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later. It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”
On Wednesday Congress returns from its election break to return for the lame duck session where they are expected to work a total of… 15 days.
One 7-day period over the next two weeks and then an 8-day period in the first two weeks of December.
Meanwhile, President Obama authorized 1,500 more troops to train the Iraqi army. This is in addition to the 1,500 already in Iraq advising the Iraqi forces.
The debate during the midterms was about the highly improbable of what ISIS COULD do, but not about the realities of what are we going to do to combat ISIS and how much was this new Middle East War going to cost us in terms of both the monetary cost and the human cost.
I would have liked for any member of congress during the midterm election season to have justified why they could not return to Washington to have a debate and vote on force authorization. Instead we had debate by proxy via the ads and the people who were wrong about our last Middle East adventure.
Congress should have explained to the 3,000 families why they did not have the debate on combating ISIS. They should also explain to the families of the sailors and Marines aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) why does Congress get a break for Thanksgiving and Christmas and shirk their constitutional duties while those service members are spending the holidays in the Persian Gulf away from their loved ones and not having a clearly defined mission.
Then there is the question about how we will take care of our veterans. We will still be paying for these wars long after we leave Afghanistan and when we finally decide that the human and monetary cost is no longer worth it in the Middle East.
Over the summer there was the Veteran's Administration hospital scandal that resulted in the firing of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the passage of a new VA Hospital funding bill that had bipartisan support from both chambers of congress.
Republicans were quick to turn this into a political opportunity without realizing their culpability in all this.
For starters, it was under a Republican president that took this country to war without providing additional funding to VA Hospitals. It was under that same president, George W. Bush, that resulted in the revelations of neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Bobby Muller, then president of Veterans for America, said, "Walter Reed is not a photo-op. Walter Reed is still broken. The DOD health care system is still broken. ... Our troops need their commander in chief to start working harder for them."
Ronald Reagan is regarded as a saint in the Republican Party. He cares for the troops they say… that is until you read this congressional report from 1990 that states:
"The Reagan administration had adopted a legal strategy of refusing liability in military and civilian cases of contamination involving toxic chemicals and nuclear radiation. ... The Federal Government has suppressed or minimized findings of ill health effects among Vietnam veterans that could be linked to Agent Orange exposure."
Before Democrats get all high and mighty, you are also culpable in this as well. Agent Orange was used during the Vietnam War, a war expanded under President Johnson and the authorization of the use of this herbicide was under President Kennedy. Under President Carter, the VA created the Agent Orange registry where veterans who were worried about exposure to the chemical and its side effects during the Vietnam War could be examined. However, four years later a GAO report discovered that over half of the respondents felt that the examinations were not effective and provided little to no information on exposure to Agent Orange.
The VA has a terrible backlog of processing claims and problematic history with modernizing their records. President Truman in May 1945 said, "The Veterans Administration will be modernized... as soon as possible, but I can't do it immediately."
A lot of the problems with the Veterans' Administration has been highlighted by The Daily Show. As shown here, Jon Stewart goes through the history of how Veterans have a history of been screwed over.
One the things to come out during the debate on the new VA funding bill was a letter written by Senator Richard Burr (NC, R). The letter, posted to his website, stated that Veterans groups do not have their priorities in order and are more interested in defending the status quo.
I think it is this congress that does not have its priorities in order when it comes to the needs of Veterans. As a matter of fact, Senator Richard Burr and his Republican colleagues blocked a VA funding bill in February 2014 by attaching a poison pill of adding new sanctions on Iran.
In response the Burr's letter several Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) offered their own response. Disabled American Veterans (DAV) had their response as well.
The best had to come from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). They called the letter a "monumental cheap shot" and a "disgusting style of politics." In addition was this shot across the bow:
If we’ve been remiss in anything Senator, we’ve been remiss in being too polite with Congress. For years, the VFW has come to Congress with hat in hand and for years, we’ve heard the same old story. You can be assured Senator, that you’ve done a superb job in showing us the error in our ways. You can also be assured that in the future, we will spend a substantial percentage of our time seeking to inform our members and our constituents of the repeated failure to act by our elected officials. We will not stand by and let our members be distracted by rhetoric or finger-pointing and we certainly won’t abide our veterans being used as political footballs. And you can be sure that we will let our membership know the low-regard you hold for their organization.
In other words: We have long memories and we look forward to when you are up for re-election which is in… 2016.
There is a reason why I titled this "Support The Troops*." For the last decade that has been the rallying cry.
Support The Troops.
Unless they need education and employment training when their enlistment is completed.
Support The Troops.
Unless they are gay.
Support The Troops.
Unless they need access to health care to deal with PTSD and depression, and that funding is opposed because we can't afford.
Yes, like how we couldn't afford to go to war.
Support The Troops.
Unless when it comes to matters of debating whether we go to war and do not define the specifics of the mission at hand.
Perhaps it is finally time to live up to that slogan.