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The Forgotten Cost of War: Caring for Veterans

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President Obama has finally laid out his strategy for Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he did so without using the word "veteran" and without articulating any back-end support for our returning troops. In typical fashion, we've heard the media's talking heads ask: Is Afghanistan Obama's Vietnam? Why only 30,000 troops? Will the exit strategy embolden the Taliban?

And now, the politics and policy of the new strategy have been broken down into predictable soundbite-sized morsels by the partisans and pundits. But few have focused on how the Administration plans to support those 30,000 troops when they return home. Nor have we heard much talk of their families who won't be on planes to Afghanistan, but are still making sacrifices every day on the home front. These are the brave Americans responsible for executing this new plan or waiting for a knock on the door that they pray will never come.

President Obama's plan will significantly increase the demands on our service members, almost 800,000 of whom have already served multiple tours. The propeller-heads in Washington have crunched the numbers determining how much it will cost to send these new forces to the front. But I'm not at all convinced that they've done the back-end planning that's necessary for a complete war plan; one that cares for these troops when they come home. As we saw with the implementation of the new GI Bill, failing to plan is planning to fail. If the President doesn't plan adequately now, Walter Reed will only be the beginning of a decades-long national embarrassment of failing to care for our nation's veterans and their families.

The only way to avoid another round of heartache, disappointment and frustration is to guarantee that our returning troops will receive the full support of the president, Congress, the Department of Defense, the VA and the American people (a critical spoke on this wheel that has been neglected for far too long).

We can start by ensuring that every service member receives the resources they need when they come home. This doesn't mean a welcome home parade, although that's always a nice gesture. It means leaders in Washington that don't live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue stepping up right now. Congress must send the VA health care budget to the president immediately. As of tonight's address, the VA budget is already 61 days late.

But Congress cannot stop there. The outdated and ineffective military and VA disability systems that leave hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for claims to be processed must be reformed. And during these trying economic times, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that every veteran can find employment and a place to call home.

Finally, President Obama must find a way to fully engage all Americans in supporting and advocating for all those who've served -- regardless of how they feel about the war. America's foreign policy cannot succeed without these heroes, and their return home won't succeed without us.

Crossposted at www.IAVA.org.

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