Doing Right, and Write, by Veterans

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Today, Sunday, is Veterans Day.

The 2.5 million men and women who have served in our nation’s wars since 9/11 are our obligation – and liability – for decades to come.

“The United States is now emerging from the longest continuous time of war in its history,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, an Army veteran, says in his Veterans Day message. “A new generation of veterans is returning home. They have carried a very heavy burden.” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retied Army four-star general, notes that “In this Department, every day is Veterans Day.”

Many have reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for help. The VA is overwhelmed, and vets are waiting too long for their claims to be heard. That tidal wave may say more about the dragged-out, turnstile deployments Afghanistan and Iraq demanded by our politics, than the vets themselves. That debate is now over.

But the budget crunch is just beginning.

Since 9/11, military personnel costs have jumped nearly 50% and veterans’ costs have climbed nearly a 100%, Phil Carter of the Center for a New American Security writes in a new report:

If current utilization statistics are any guide, veterans of the current wars will rely more heavily on the VA than previous cohorts, filing more claims for benefits and utilizing more VA services over their lifetimes.

Carter, a former deputy assistant defense secretary and Army veteran of the Iraq war, tells Battleland that maintaining the veterans programs the nation needs will be a challenge:

Public support for the military is at an all time high, but the public appetite for military spending is likely to wane in coming years. However, our commitments to veterans and military personnel will endure, and probably become more costly in years to come as veterans increasingly lean on the VA. This is a golden moment to address issues facing this community, which support and resources remain high, and while we have an opportunity to help people who are suffering.

The most startling thing in Carter’s report is this chart, which shows veterans’ funding climbing over the past decade even as the number of vets shrinks:


Carter’s report acknowledge finding money for future veterans care will be tough. Which brings us to the efforts of Ron Capps, with his Veterans Writing Project and its new O-Dark-Thirty literary journal.

Many vets – like Ron, a periodic Battleland contributor – find writing therapeutic. “We’ve got writing from veterans of WWII, Vietnam, the Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan, plus family members and some still serving service members,” Capps says. “We’ve even included an interview with Army veteran and literary legend Gay Talese.”

(Betcha didn’t know Talese started out as a public affairs officer to then-Brigadier General Creighton Abrams. It’s a long way from General Abrams has a Talented PAO to Talese’s 1966 Esquire article Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, declared by the magazine to be the best article ever to appear in its pages.)

Anyway, the journal is chock-a-block with great writing.

Two complementary perspectives on those who have served this Veterans Day: that the government needs to do more, somehow, to deal with the veterans the nation created over the past decade, and that some vets are doing more on their own.