I've mentioned before on this very blog that Veterans For America will not take sides in the Presidential Race. But right now, in Pennsylvania, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain are asking voters to do just that. I hope as everyone in that great state goes about making their decision, they take a moment to look at what Veterans For America has just learned through our research there: like so many other states, the continued multiple deployments of National Guard members to Iraq and Afghanistan has had a devastating effect on the Guard members, their families and their communities -- it is a situation that must be addressed and addressed now.
VFA has been on the ground in the Keystone State for most of this month, and has found that the citizen Soldiers of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard have borne a disproportionate share of the burden of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Between now and November 4th, it is essential that every presidential and congressional candidate and their surrogates campaigning in Pennsylvania address how they will relieve the great strain placef on the Pennsylvania National Guard.
Pennsylvania's 20,000 citizen Soldiers and Airmen rank among the largest Guard forces in the nation, and the most heavily deployed over the last seven years. The state has lost 43 Guard members in the Global War on Terror, more than any other. And the deployments continue at a breakneck pace in Pennsylvania, with more than 5,000 of its Guard members scheduled to deploy in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom within the next two years.
The speed and size of repeated deployments -- many Pennsylvania Guard members and their families are preparing for their third combat tour -- are saddling Guard members and their families with needs that over-match available resources.
As one Pennsylvania National Guard Captain told us, "The deployments are announced so fast, and people are going before there's even a chance to establish Family Readiness Groups."
VFA's preliminary findings, based upon hundreds of hours of research, interviews, and facility inspections, find evidence of strain even as Pennsylvania's leaders continue to engage problems head-on. The pains of readjustment to civilian life, misdiagnosed post-combat injuries, and degraded readiness at home are not unique to Pennsylvania but are considerable because of the Keystone State's large Guard force. VFA found that despite proactive outreach by the state to its 1.3 million veterans, more is needed as more veterans are continually added to the ranks.
In the coming weeks, VFA will issue a final report with recommendations on a number of specific proposals to address the problems continued deployments create. In the coming days, I'd like to see the candidates address these problems as well.