Tag Archives: Vets Against War

Iraq And The Cost of Geopolitical Hubris


Hubris Selling Iraq War


“These leaders created a false case for invading Iraq and then utterly mismanaged the occupation.

It seems a long time ago, and in a world far, far away, that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, enthusiastically supported by Tony Blair, went to war with Iraq.

Yet now a long and long-overdue British report into Britain’s role in that war, the report of the official and independent Iraq Inquiry Committee led by John Chilcot, has been published, reopening wounds and forcing Mr. Blair back into the limelight to defend why, despite so much evidence and advice against joining in the Bush administration’s misguided enthusiasm for invading Iraq, he chose as prime minister to throw his full support behind America.

Mr. Blair’s message to Mr. Bush at the time — “I will be with you, whatever” — leaps out painfully from the report’s 2.6 million words, proclaiming a blind loyalty that the Iraq war only helped erode, and that seems especially archaic now that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has raised questions about its role in NATO and its place as America’s closest European ally.

Mr. Blair’s critics are no doubt disappointed that in response to theChilcot report, he has continued to defend his actions. “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it,” he said, which seems willfully blind to the current chaos in Iraq and beyond. But if he would not confess that he erred in his decision, he did acknowledge, “There’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about it.”

His plea for understanding the context in which he made his decision to stand with the United States, the confusion and the need for action after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, seems tragically inadequate and self-serving with so many lives lost — more than 200 Britons, at least 4,500 Americans and more than 150,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians — and so much treasure spent prosecuting a war that was built on falsehoods.

While there have been no consequences for Mr. Blair himself, the political judgment of the British has been decisive, rendering the Iraq war as a defining blot on Mr. Blair’s 10 years in office.

The report should not be read as an indictment only of Mr. Blair’s foolish decision. Though the United States was not the subject of the inquiry, it was the Bush administration that falsely sold and launched the invasion. There has been no comparable, comprehensive official inquiry in Washington by independent investigators into the origin and politics of the fateful decision to go to war. Years have passed, but the public, in the United States and abroad, still yearns for the full truth and deserves an American investigation on the scale of the 9/11 Commission.

Given the partisan divide in Washington, however, it is hard to believe a similar exercise would produce anything even remotely dispassionate or honest. And yet it is the United States, far more than Britain, that needs to understand how national policy can be hijacked by lies and ideology so that there’s less chance it will happen again.”


Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service




“The thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters.

Something in the stomach tumbles from expressions of appreciation that are so disconnected from the “evil, nasty stuff you do in war; when your war turns out to have feet of clay — whether fighting peasants in Vietnam or in the name of eradicating weapons of mass destruction that never materialized.”


“So what to say to a vet? Maybe promise to vote next time, Mr. Freedman said, or offer a scholarship or job (as, he said, some places have stepped up and done). Stand up for what’s right, suggested Mr. O’Brien.

The thanks Mr. Garth gets today remind him of both the bad times and the good, all of which carry more meaning than he has now in civilian life. Hardest is the gratitude from parents of fallen comrades. “That’s the most painful thank you,” he said. “It’s not for me, and I’m not your son.” He struggled to explain his irritation. “It’s not your fault,” he said of those thanking him. “But it’s not my fault either.”

Mr. Freedman, 33, feels like the thanks “alleviates some of the civilian guilt,” adding: “They have no skin in the game with these wars. There’s no draft.” No real opinions either, he said. “At least with Vietnam, people spit on you and you knew they had an opinion.”  Thank you for your service,” he said, is almost the equivalent of “I haven’t thought about any of this.”

Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam vet and the author of the acclaimed book “The Things They Carried,” told me that his war’s vets who believed in the mission like to be thanked. Others, himself included, find that “something in the stomach tumbles” from expressions of appreciation that are so disconnected from the “evil, nasty stuff you do in war.”

The more so, he said, “when your war turns out to have feet of clay” — whether fighting peasants in Vietnam or in the name of eradicating weapons of mass destruction that never materialized.

Mr. Garth appreciates thanks from someone who makes an effort to invest in the relationship and experience.”



                                                                        Records Backlog at a VA Center
In September of 2012 this site published an article on the VA and its efforts to improve services to veterans as well as support small business. It was noted from personal experience that excellent care was being received by those in the system but that there was a growing backlog of cases and lack of an effective process to support getting a faster rate of entrance by those returning from the battlefield.
Also noted were disturbing trends in outlandishly expensive conferences and ridiculous video productions, wasting funds earmarked for veteran care. Red flags were going up in the Inspector General office regarding mismanagement of small business set aside programs as well.
Much as occurred since September of 2012.
Last month (January 2015) I visited the VA in Minneapolis for a blood analysis in connection with my annual physical. I marveled at the hundreds of personnel who were going through the blood draw process at 8AM that morning. Polite technicians handled everyone carefully and courteously. My test results were on my doctor’s computer for my 11 AM appointment that day.
In 2012 I used the VA hospital courtesy center computers for veterans, finding them hopelessly out of date, security-bound and barely functioning. During my January 2015 visit I found beautifully functioning high speed computers and a courteous attendant serving many veterans at the the center
On my most recent visit I also went to the department that handles I.D. Cards and applied for a new one, having been informed my card was out of date. I was attended by a sharp technician who checked my credentials, transferred by data, took my picture and processed my application inside of 20 minutes and I was behind several others.
We who are in the system are still receiving fine service. 
But the massive number of returning veterans has strained the VA Health Care System to the point where the Department Secretary has been fired. A corporate executive from outside the system has been placed in charge. The department has been massively reorganized into 5 regions across the country to deal with a scandalous scenario of wait times and neglect in services for incoming veterans.
We forecast the above situation.  It is principally due to the fact that the 5 armed forces medical records systems are not connected to the VA Health Care System and the government contractors who have attempted to develop a system to connect them have failed miserably. 

“Next Gov”

Defense and VA Scrap New Electronic Health Record after estimated costs ballooned to $28 billion. By Congress’ count, the doomed effort – a result of the 2008 Defense Authorization Act – already cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. “

Congress is focusing on firing personnel as a remedy. In our view that is symptom-like remedy, not a solution.
We now have a corporate bureaucrat in charge of the department who is running it like a corporation, reorganizing and establishing a 5-headed bureau under him. There will no doubt be 5 separate fiefdoms to manage. Who knows what will happen to requirements for IT as existing IT system designs get split 5 ways?
Government contracting services companies are continuing to have a field day, growing rich and failing in the classic fashion we saw with the Obama Care roll out.  Success is not a money-making proposition for these firms.  They get their monthly bills paid as they march hundreds of service workers into government buildings to catch the latest whim of the civil service program managers as they change specifications depending on which way the wind is blowing in the massive bureaucracy.
We believe those who are lucky enough to have entered the system will continue to received good care.

We pity those younger or seasoned injured and ill who are knocking on the door and waiting to get in.

The Tragedy of the American Military




“THE ATLANTIC” by James Fallows

“The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.

Chickenhawk Nation is based on the derisive term for those eager to go to war, as long as someone else is going.

When the country fought its previous wars, its common points of reference were human rather than canine: fathers and sons in harm’s way, mothers and daughters working in defense plants and in uniform as well.

For two decades after World War II, the standing force remained so large, and the Depression-era birth cohorts were so small, that most Americans had a direct military connection. Among older Baby Boomers, those born before 1955, at least three-quarters have had an immediate family member—sibling, parent, spouse, child—who served in uniform. Of Americans born since 1980, the Millennials, about one in three is closely related to anyone with military experience.

Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.)

The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.

Although no one can agree on an exact figure, our dozen years of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and neighboring countries have cost at least $1.5 trillion

Yet from a strategic perspective, to say nothing of the human cost, most of these dollars might as well have been burned. “At this point, it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq,” a former military intelligence officer named Jim Gourley wrote recently for Thomas E. Ricks’s blog, Best Defense. “Evaluated according to the goals set forth by our military leadership, the war ended in utter defeat for our forces.”

In 13 years of continuous combat under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the longest stretch of warfare in American history, U.S. forces have achieved one clear strategic success: the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Their many other tactical victories, from overthrowing Saddam Hussein to allying with Sunni tribal leaders to mounting a “surge” in Iraq, demonstrated great bravery and skill. But they brought no lasting stability to, nor advance of U.S. interests in, that part of the world.

When ISIS troops overran much of Iraq last year, the forces that laid down their weapons and fled before them were members of the same Iraqi national army that U.S. advisers had so expensively yet ineffectively trained for more than five years.

“A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it,” Andrew Bacevich wrote in 2012. Bacevich himself fought in Vietnam; his son was killed in Iraq. “Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”



James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years.




Veterans in Congress Bring Rare Perspective to Authorizing War













Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, served in Iraq as a Marine.

“New York Times”

“There are 26 veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate.

Many say their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan taught them that the American military cannot fix what is fundamentally a cultural and political issue: the inability of governments to thwart extremism within their own borders.

Ted Lieu of California, said he would not support giving Mr. Obama the formal authority he had requested because, like many veterans, he finds it difficult to see how the conflict will ever end.

“The American military is an amazing force. We are very good at defeating the enemy, taking over territory, blowing things up,” said Mr. Lieu, who served in the Air Force and remains in the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. “But America has traditionally been very bad at answering the next question, which is what do you do after that.”

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now serving in Congress have emerged as some of the most important voices in the debate over whether to give President Obama a broad authorization for a military campaign against the Islamic State or something much more limiting.

In other conflicts, Congress shaped military policy with a certain remove from the battlefield. But as lawmakers deliberate whether to give authority for a military operation to a president for the first time since 2002, there are 26 veterans from the United States’ two most recent wars serving in the House and Senate, according to the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. To them, this fight is not a distant foreign conflict. They have an intimate understanding of battling the same kinds of deadly extremists.

“One of the reasons I ran for Congress was to make sure we didn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, of going into war without a clear strategy,” said Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii and an Iraq war veteran.

As a member of a National Guard medical unit who was responsible for reviewing the previous day’s casualty list, she said, she wondered whether “the leaders of our country and those in positions of making these decisions really understand what the impacts of their decisions were.”

While Ms. Gabbard and other veterans agree that Congress should exercise its constitutional prerogative to authorize the commander in chief to engage in military action, their conflicting views on the scope of that authority reflect the larger complexities of the debate and the difficulty the House and Senate face in any effort to draft a compromise resolution.

Republicans, by and large, want to pass a broad resolution that would contain few if any limitations on the president’s ability to send forces wherever and whenever he believes he needs them. Democrats tend to support a more restricted resolution that would not open the door to another lengthy, sprawling conflict.

With the death or retirement of World War II veterans, the number of men and women in Congress who served in the military has been steadily declining. In the 1970s, roughly 70 percent of the Senate had military service, according to Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate historian. At the beginning of the current Congress, 101 members — or 19 percent — had served or were serving in the military, according to the Congressional Research Service. There is not a single member who served in World War II.

But the number of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan — and their influence — has been rising.

Three Republican senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, all veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq — were elected in November and now sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. More than a dozen House lawmakers who are veterans of those conflicts, both Democrat and Republican, sit on the House Armed Services Committee.

“They understand it’s easy to go to war and it’s tough to end it, and they understand the long-term effects in a very different way,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “It’s especially important when the president himself is not a combat veteran.”

The veterans are raising questions that the Obama administration will have to answer about its military commitments abroad, from the precise role that ground troops should play to whether the three-year time frame that Mr. Obama has proposed for fighting the Islamic State is correct.

“If we just go in and solve their military problem, propping up the Iraqi military, I guarantee we’ll be back there solving it again three or four years down the road,” said Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, who served in the Marines in Iraq. A “diplomatic surge,” he added, would be a better strategy than sending in combat forces.

Representative Martha E. McSally, Republican of Arizona and a retired Air Force colonel, calls the fight against the Islamic State a “generational struggle” that will not be easily solved. But her concerns have led her to a different conclusion. She said she was likely to support the president’s request, as long as his authority would not be too limited.

“If you think we’re going to declare victory over Islamic extremism in three years, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Ms. McSally said. “I’m not advocating that we start deploying large battalions over the Middle East, but we do want to make sure that the military can use all elements in any domain in order to meet our military objectives.”

Indeed, many Republicans with military service expressed their greatest anxiety about the language in the war authorization that would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces.”

“When we go to war, we want to give our troops every advantage on the battlefield,” said Representative Ryan Zinke, Republican of Montana and a retired commander at SEAL Team Six. “We don’t want to have another Benghazi, where you call and all of a sudden no one is answering on the other line.”

Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, served two tours in Iraq. An Air Force pilot who is currently in the Air National Guard Reserve, he said, “We have to ask ourselves what’s worse — the presence of American ground troops or the presence of ISIS.”

Representative Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona and a member of the Marine Reserve, was deployed to Iraq in 2005. He said his experience clearing insurgents from cities — only to have them return once his unit had moved on — had made him reluctant to send ground troops, because he worries about the United States again being forced to “clean up messes.”


The Citizen and the Citizen Military – What Lies Ahead?


washington-CitizenSoldiers . us

Military pay raises are minimal, high profile overstuffed general officers and admirals are bad for morale (revolving door and pensions higher than career pay). What is the mix of technology and manpower required to fight today’s wars? How do we acquire, train and retain what we need? Reserves and National Guard involve long term multiple deployments with no assurance of a future for those who return.  We now have a chairman of the Armed Services Committee that wants to go to war with everyone:

John Mccain on Foreign Policy

The following are 3 perspectives from experts:

Can YOU answer the Citizen’s Question at the end?

PERSPECTIVE 1 – From a Military Man

Mark Seip a senior Navy fellow at the Atlantic Council recently noted the cultural and conception gap that exists between America and it volunteer armed forces:

“From the military side, many of us feel that we are unique to our generation in our calling; that we rose above the self-absorbed stereotype often associated with both Gen Xers and Millennials to protect our nation. We accept significant time away from our families, often subpar working conditions compared to our civilian counterparts, and average pay in relation to the skills we possess in order to wear the uniform. Moreover, as our nation’s warrior corps we assume a level of risk since time immemorial, that our occupation entails a distinct possibility of loss of life. Our service therefore requires a level of confidence and self-assurance to do our jobs and take the risks required.

Second, the widening gap is a function of exposure, both in numbers and in proximity. As Fallows points out, 2.5 million served in either Iraq or Afghanistan. To provide context, according to an NPR study 8.7 million served in some capacity in Vietnam. Furthermore, during Vietnam the majority of the generation at that time had fathers and mothers who served in some capacity either in WWII, Korea or both. Today, however, the actual number and/or the tangential family tie to the military is lower, reinforcing the distance between those in service and the rest of the nation.”

The Military/Civilian Gap 

PERSPECTIVE 2 – From a Military Contractor

Eric Prince, the former CEO of Black Water continues to insist that private security employees working for the U.S. government in warzones should be tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, instead of the civilian criminal justice system.

“It’s quite different for a jury that is 7,000 miles away from the warzone, looking at a split-second decision made seven years earlier in a warzone, minutes after a large car bomb goes off.” Prince said he hopes the guards’ convictions can be successfully appealed. “The last chapter is not written yet.”

Although he quit the business, Prince still sees a future for the private security business.

“The world is a much more dangerous place, there is more radicalism, more countries that are melting down or approaching that state.” At the same time, the Pentagon is under growing pressure to cut spending and the cost of the all-volunteer force keeps rising, Prince said.

“The U.S. military has mastered the most expensive way to wage war, with a heavy expensive footprint.” Over the long run, the military might have to rely more on contractors, as it will become tougher to recruit service members. Prince cited recent statistics that 70 percent of the eligible population of prospective troops is unsuitable to serve in the military for various reasons such as obesity, lack of a high school education, drug use, criminal records or even excessive tattoos. In some cases, Prince said, it might make more sense to hire contractors.”

 Eric Prince on Future Wars

PERSPECTIVE 3 – From a Military Analyst


“The film “American Sniper” about legendary Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle broke box office records this holiday season when the picture earned a million dollars in five days on only a handful of screens. It is time we grappled with America’s actual wars and their real-time, life and death consequences, once again with as much dedication as we line up to watch them play out on the big screen.

The military may be fighting a war. Or wars. But we, as a country, are not. In USA Today’s list of its most read articles of 2014, neither the war in Afghanistan nor the simmering fight in Iraq – to which U.S. troops are headed back – cleared the top 10. The same is true for Yahoo’s list of its most searched stories. No Iraq or Afghanistan in sight.

It is nearly inconceivable but somehow true that in the 2013 government shutdown, death benefits for the families of those killed in action fighting for the United States also shut off.”

 The Movies Vs. Real War

Citizen’s question: Could or should we reinstate the draft?

When All Else Fails – Reorganize – Largest Reorganization in Veterans Administration (VA) History



“The Veterans Affairs Department is reorganizing its labyrinthine structure into a single, five-region national framework as part of a large-scale effort to improve services to veterans and reduce an entrenched bureaucracy responsible for mismanagement throughout the organization.

The department’s organizational realignment is part of what officials are touting as the largest reorganization in the VA’s history, sparked by last year’s scandal involving excessive patient wait times and the falsification of appointment scheduling records.

Microsoft Word - MyVA Regional Map.docx

“The regions, when complete and fully mature, will allow us to create a more cohesive and singular department from the veteran perspective,” said Scott Blackburn, director of the MyVA program management office in the department. “VA components will have better internal coordination and the ability to leverage shared services and experiences.” Blackburn said the realignment also would help the department offer enhanced training to employees across VA to better serve vets, as well as improve coordination and communication among workers.

(Related: Report Finds VA’s Monitoring System is Not Doing Its Job)

The current VA structure varies widely among the agencies and internal offices within the department. For instance, the Veterans Benefits Administration, which oversees benefits including compensation, home loans and education, is made up of four regions. The Veterans Health Administration has 152 medical centers within 23 Veterans Integrated Service Networks throughout the country. The National Cemetery Administration has five Memorial Service Networks and a central office. Several internal staff offices, including public affairs offices and information technology, have their own structures and are sprinkled across the United States.

“A lot of the whole point [of the realignment] is to internally sync up our structures for better coordination and more efficient operations,” Blackburn said during a Monday conference call with reporters. Bob Snyder, executive director of the MyVA program management office, said VBA, VHA, and NCA led the discussion on the realignment, settling on five regions after considering other options.

Practically speaking, however, the impact of this change on vets and employees at this point is not yet clear. But slashing VA jobs isn’t part of the plan to streamline the enterprise, Snyder said.

“This [realignment] is not about losing jobs,” Snyder said, responding to a reporter’s question. “There’s more than enough work to do across the VA that we need everybody we’ve got, and then some. Depending on what analysis you look at, we’ve got significant shortages in many of our specialties. This is not about cutting jobs.” Snyder added that the department is conducting “a thorough analysis of the positions we have.”

Both Snyder and Blackburn reiterated throughout the press briefing that the announcement was a “first step” in a long process, and that more analysis is necessary before a final plan is implemented.

“We want to make sure we are communicating early, often and honestly,” Blackburn said, responding to reporters’ confusion over the practical effects of the realignment, and officials’ inability to offer specific details right now. Blackburn said the VA would continue to share information about the plan as it unfolds.

As Secretary Bob McDonald said when he officially announced the reorganization in November, the goals is for vets to “know who to contact, know where to go on the websites, know what benefits are available” so that they can “easily connect with us to get the benefits and the services that they’ve already earned and deserved.”

The “MyVA” approach is designed to rebuild trust with vets, employees and the public. It revolves around five main areas: improving the veteran experience; improving the employee experience so they can better serve veterans; improving internal support services, such as human resources and financial management; establishing a culture of continuous improvement; and enhancing strategic partnerships.”


The most impressive State of the Union guest


jasonhospital                                                                                        Jason Gibson

“CBS NEWS” (Super Interview Video at Link Below)

“On Earth Gibson is tethered to a wheelchair because he lost both legs so high up he cannot wear prosthetics. It happened on patrol in Afghanistan in 2012 when he took a knee and set off a roadside bomb.

Since then Gibson has competed in four marathons, hit the slopes in Sun Valley and cast for trout in Montana. But he was still tethered to some sort of wheelchair — until he got his pilot’s license. The obstacles of earth, like bumpy sidewalks or buildings that don’t have ramps, are non-existent in the sky.

There’s a famous poem about flying which begins, “I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” It was written during World War II but it describes Jason Gibson to a T.

“Once you’re up there you’re flying,” said Gibson. “You can go anywhere. That’s what it feels like and you can see everything. I just love that feeling.”

I tell people I’ve done more stuff with my life with no legs than when I had legs,” said Gibson.

“No stairs at 20,000 feet,” I said.

“Nope,” Gibson laughed.

When President Obama visited Gibson in the hospital no one could have imagined he would one day fly. Gibson was so tranquilized on pain medication he didn’t even know it was the president.

I didn’t register who he was and there are pictures of me just like glaring, ‘who is this guy? What’s he doing here?'” Gibson said with a laugh.

Last October, he wrote the president a letter.

“I felt like writing and saying when you saw me I don’t know if you remember or not but you know here’s my life after that point you know,” Gibson told me. “There is good from bad things.”

Gibson and his wife Kara performed another miracle — a baby girl named Quinn.

“I cried in the operating room when she was born, it was the most amazing thing I’ve seen,” said Gibson.

Given his wounds Gibson had thought he would never be able to have children but, thanks to in vitro fertilization, Quinn is on her way to Washington for Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“I wasn’t done here on Earth,” Gibson laughed.

Notice how Gibson ends every statement with a chuckle? None of us would envy his condition. All of us should envy his spirit.

Gibson says he doesn’t know how he survived — simply calling it, “a miracle.” A miracle of medicine and of the human spirit.”




Behind the Mask Revealing the Trauma of War


hallArmy Major Jeff Hall (Ret.) Iraq 2003-04, 2005 – Photographed with his wife, Sheri (at left), and their two daughters —–

“I told him, I’m not cleaning your brains off the bedroom wall.”


“One of many service members guided by art therapist Melissa Walker at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), which is part of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland. Images painted on their masks symbolize themes such as death, physical pain, and patriotism.”


Veterans Seek Higher Profile in Washington



Washington could lear alot dot com“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“Those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been particularly emphatic about the need to demilitarize U.S. foreign policy and shift resources to other tools of national power such as diplomacy and economic engagement.

When we talk about unemployment, suicides and post-traumatic stress, we have to ensure we are not creating a caricature of veterans as broken vessels and ticking time bombs. When veterans get involved in these policy arguments, it’s with a very unique perspective of people who have been to war.

“There is a restive element out there looking to get back in the game,” says retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, a long-time critic of U.S. defense policy and now an executive at Vet Voice Foundation, a progressive group that promotes environmental conservation and a non-military approach to foreign policy.

Returning vets tend to be pigeonholed, perhaps unfairly, as victims of post-combat stress who have difficulty reintegrating into civilian life. Eaton says those problems are real, although far from the only causes veterans champion. Most vets affiliated with his group, Eaton says, bring an untapped source of political energy that, if unleashed, could influence policies of concern to the nation at large. “There is an opportunity to harness these men and women and bring their voices to bear on problems that need to be solved in the United States.”

Eaton has been an adviser to VoteVets.org, a group that has helped elect progressive veterans to Congress. Having vets in elected office is helpful, he says, but not essential because Congress generally feels a moral obligation toward those who served.

Veterans would like to see more action taken on major national security challenges, says Eaton.  “The Defense Department has 535 advocates on Capitol Hill. But the State Department is an orphan,” Eaton says. “Vets would be thrilled to see economic or diplomatic solutions before we rush to war.”

The nation’s predisposition to use the military to solve just about every foreign policy problem is understandable given the resources the Defense Department has. Shifting the balance of power has been a perennial fruitless battle, but veterans can lend a credible perspective to this debate, he says. “We need to motivate the other agencies to get in there with diplomatic and economic power to solve foreign policy issues. As a nation, we are not well trained and equipped to deploy nonmilitary expertise.”

Veterans also can be effective spokesmen on energy and environmental concerns. “Before vets got involved in green energy there wasn’t much talk about the security angle of renewables,” Eaton says. “Even Republicans who want to drill for more oil have couched energy as a national security issue.” Vet Voice is now actively involved in conservation battles, fighting local governments that want to develop public lands. Veterans, many of whom are avid outdoorsmen, have argued that public lands should be off limits.

In a different slice of the political spectrum are groups like Concerned Veterans of America, which has pushed for sweeping reforms at Veterans Affairs and also espoused typically unpopular causes like changes to military reitrement and reductions in spending on mandatory benefits to help pay for military modernization.

“We are not just fighting for benefits, but also for America’s freedom and prosperity,” says CVA chief executive Pete Hegseth. A key priority for the organization is to persuade Congress to allow vets to get care at private hospitals if they so choose. “The VA is a shining example of government gone wrong,” he says. “Reforms should go deeper. Veterans should have more options.”

Sacrosanct programs like military retirement benefits also should be challenged, Hegseth says. Many veterans who serve less than 20 years believe the current retirement system is unfair. “Someone who served 12 years in combat gets nothing while someone who worked at the Pentagon for 20 years and never went to combat gets full pension. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing.”

He sees a need for more veterans’ involvement in the national security conversation. “We are well positioned to articulate the need for American strength and leadership … and for fiscal responsibility.” CVA appreciates efforts by Congress and the White House to prod more federal agencies and corporations to hire veterans, but cautions these programs might perpetuate the stereotype of unemployed vets.

“You always have to be careful to not reinforce stigmas,” says Hegseth.  His pitch to companies: You should hire a veteran to improve your bottom line. It shouldn’t be about charity. “We don’t think government should have to spend on hiring programs.”

Veterans often are labeled as pro-war or anti-war, but their stance is not so cut and dry. “We want a coherent foreign policy. It doesn’t mean more wars,” he says. “You can be judicious but unapologetic about American leadership being a good thing.”

It might be too soon to predict how effective vet groups’ advocacy will be in shaping the national agenda. Eaton is optimistic. Generally when people talk about rolling back the spread of nuclear weapons, they are seen as peace activists. “When vets get involved, we can’t pin them in that sort of way.”