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Drafting Reform for the U.S. Military

The longest war in the history of America turned ten years old today. While we take this time to thank our troops for their service, we should remember the sacrifices for this war are paid only by a small number of American families.
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The longest war in the history of America turned ten years old today. So far over 1,800 American soldiers have been killed and more than 14,000 wounded. While we take this time to thank our troops for their service, we should remember the sacrifices for this war are paid only by a small number of American families. The moral hazard in planning for war is too great -- if we want responsible leadership, we must share the sacrifice.

Right now, 3.3 million military households, representing only one percent of American families, have become a virtual military class who are unfairly carrying the burden of war. My bill, The Universal National Service Act (H.R. 5741), commonly known as the "draft" bill, mandates two years of national service for all adults 18 to 42 in any capacity that promotes our national defense. It ensures fairness in the enlistment process and deliberated defense policies.

In 2002, over a year into the Afghanistan War, a National Geographic-Roper study showed that 83% of young adults could not find Afghanistan on a map. It is not a stretch to say 83% might be capable of this were there a real and imminent possibility of them being sent there. How can we entrust ourselves with making the tough decisions of sending soldiers into harm's way if we do not even know the most basic facts of the conflict? How might Congress change their decisions concerning war if it were their sons and daughters being sent? In this day and age, there is a vacuum in the immediate and personal need for people to be concerned about these issues because they have nothing to lose -- no stake in the game.

On October 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of Americans joined hands across the country to protest the Vietnam War. They were largely driven by the prospect that they shared responsibility for defending their country and could answer their call to serve at any moment. We have yet to see major protests like that in America these days. Right now 61% of Americans oppose the War in Afghanistan, the same level of disapproval Vietnam had around the 1969 protests, but we see few people speaking out in the streets against the war.

On a financial level, we are facing a crippling depression not seen since the 1930s, yet in fiscal year 2011, we had appropriated over $400 billion for war contractors to do the work our servicemen could. Though, as it turns out, hiring contractors may be the only way for us to fight our wars without stretching our current system too thin. And because of waning volunteer rates, many of the soldiers have served multiple tours, up to six times.

Moreover, throughout the course of this war the Pentagon has been relaxing standards for recruitment. It used to be that over 90% of army recruits had a high-school diploma, now that's only about 70%. Around three in every ten recruits must get a waiver of military standards, according to Pentagon statistics, and about two-thirds of those approved in recent years have been for criminal behavior.

Then once our recruits eventually complete their service we wind up with the problem of reintegration. A record number of soldiers have lost their limbs serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost one in four suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and their suicide numbers are unacceptably high. As if that were not enough, our current financial crisis has left young male veterans with an unemployment rate of 22%, over twice the national average, and veterans make up a quarter of the homeless population.

My other bill, the Mandatory Veteran Assistance Act (H.R. 2046) would dedicate federal resources to ensuring veterans are equipped for civilian work and ready to return to their lives back home. But this bill alone is not enough: we need to change the fundamentals. One in three post-9/11 veterans believes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting. It is time we marched in the streets to bring our troops home now.

The Universal National Service Act ensures Representatives and the public remain attentive to the price of war. It helps end our reliance on expensive defense contracting and could drastically improve the quality of our armed forces. On the tenth anniversary of the longest war in American history, what could be a more appropriate time for reform?

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