Home From War, But Still Under Fire

This Memorial Day, elected officials will be delivering speeches that sing the praises of our military service-members at countless hometown events as we remember our fallen heroes from current and past wars. I highly encourage everyone reading this to attend such an event. But no matter where you find yourself today, I ask that you remember not only those who gave their lives in service to this nation, but also those who now face the prospect of becoming casualties of the Washington budget wars -- military veterans.

During the April budget impasse that nearly resulted in a government shutdown, House Republicans fired a warning shot at veterans by passing H.R. 1, which sought to end the Housing and Urban Development Agency's Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH). In the past three years, the HUD-VASH program has helped nearly 30,000 veterans by providing housing vouchers and assistance to help them get back on their feet. Thankfully, H.R. 1 was defeated in the Senate, but the battle isn't over.

The so-called deficit hawks are back on the warpath. House Speaker Boehner is now calling for trillions of dollars in cuts from the federal budget, as opposed to the one-hundred billion in cuts Republicans fought for in April. Not only that, but the current Republican budget blueprint, the "Ryan Plan," sets the 2012 Veterans Affairs budget at $128 billion, down $4.2 billion from the department's proposed budget. With our military currently fighting three wars, which are creating more wounded veterans every day, the Ryan budget is a slap in the face to anyone who has ever served in uniform.

It wasn't always this way. Support for veterans used to be a non-partisan no-brainer. It was understood that when men and women put on a uniform and take up arms to defend this country, the country makes a sacred promise to them that they will not be left behind and will not be forgotten. Service-members lay their lives on the line because of that promise, knowing that the man or woman next to them in combat will "never leave them behind." If we break this promise, we weaken the institutions that are tasked to protect us. How can we expect high-caliber individuals to continue enlisting in our armed forces when our government shows such a callous disregard for those who have served? The quality of our recruits will decline, and the quality of our military will suffer as a result.

With all of that said, I do agree with Speaker Boehner that our country cannot continue to increase our budget deficit and pass on the debt burden to future generations. This is irresponsible and will threaten the quality of life we who are fortunate to enjoy as American citizens. But we should not balance our checkbook at the expense of the values that define what it means to be American in the first place.

Those concerned about the budget deficit have several other courses of action they can pursue that do not put our veterans at risk: First, they could start promoting energy security and freedom from our dependence on foreign oil. If we can stop being dragged into costly wars, the cost of which make the Veterans Assistance budget look like pocket change, then spending will go down and revenue will go up due to the millions of jobs we could create right here in America.

Secondly, they could take the long-view on the issue of Veterans Assistance -- national programs like Housing First show that addressing homelessness early is far more cost-effective than paying for the medical bills and law enforcement costs associated with long-term, chronic homelessness in our cities.

Finally, we can ask our citizens, specifically the richest among us, to pay slightly higher taxes. We all need to do more than wave the flag on Memorial Day. If our citizens and our elected leaders truly believe that this country and the ideals it embodies are worth dying for, then we ought to have the integrity to stand up and say that those ideals are worth paying for, as well.