What are you doing on Veterans Day? Taking the day off? Sleeping in? Catching a parade? Going shopping?
How about taking five minutes to make a difference in the lives of veterans wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan while making it less likely that US soldiers of the future will be sent into similar military quagmires?
Check out a very short film (less than 5 minutes) that has been released this Veterans Day that describes an idea whose time has come - the Veterans' Trust Fund - and how you can make it a reality. Then declare your support by signing up at www.standwithvets.org.
What's a Veterans' Trust Fund? It will require Congress to take responsibility for the true costs of warfare whenever they vote to go to war or extend a war. That will mean appropriating funds upfront so that those injured or wounded in the course of their military service will be guaranteed proper care and support when they come home.
Why do we need a Veterans' Trust Fund? Because when Congress votes for wars, like funding the invasion of Iraq or the escalation in Afghanistan, it doesn't debate the true cost of those wars or take responsibility for the cost of meeting the future needs of those who are sent to do the fighting. Caring for those injured in battle is pushed off until later. When later comes, wounded veterans find themselves competing in the political give and take of Washington DC. The result has been tragedy, neglect and a system overwhelmed with needs it is ill equipped to meet. Consider this:
• Last year, there were more than 1,800 suicide attempts by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA is more than 1,000 short of the counselors, therapists and specialists needed to meet the mental health needs of veterans.
• 565,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have filed disability claims for conditions directly related to their combat. The backlog for processing claims at the Veterans Administration exceeds 700,000, and despite robust efforts at the VA, that number continues to grow.
When I described the idea of a Veterans' Trust Fund to a Member of Congress, he said: "Do you know how high this will drive the cost of going to war?" Precisely. Going to war will become that much more expensive up front and therefore that much more difficult to support particularly by those who are worried about the ballooning federal deficit. Fact is, since 2003 nearly 25% of the federal deficit can be attributed directly to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reason that creating a Veterans' Trust Fund will increase the cost of going to war is because up to now Congress has been passing the buck for these costs to those who can least afford it - our wounded warriors and their families. It's time we tell Congress: If it is worth going to war, it is worth standing by those who are sent to do the fighting.
Major General John Batiste, who commanded forces in Iraq and now serves as the Chair of the New York State Veterans Affairs Commission, describes the Veterans' Trust Fund as "a moral imperative". He told a Congressional hearing in September -
"Why are we discussing a Veterans' Trust Fund nine years into these wars? We might very well have decided if we'd done the strategy right that the ends, ways and means are not in balance and therefore this was not a good idea. That, at the end of the day, is the bottom line."
If you are looking for a truly meaningful way to observe Veterans Day, watch our short film and then visit www.standwithvets.org to declare your support for the Veterans' Trust Fund.
Happy Veterans Day.
Follow Tom Andrews on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TomHAndrews