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Remembering our veterans year-round

Veterans Day is not just another federal holiday for me. My husband served in Vietnam, and so did many of the working-class boys I grew up with in Robbinsdale. When asked – or drafted – they served our country in a war far from home.

Sen. Sandy Pappas

So many veterans of that era returned with both physical and psychological harm. For many, it took decades of struggle to receive adequate treatment from our nation. Though the warriors are now glorified, services for many of today’s veterans — who suffer from PTSD, who are homeless or who are under/unemployed in staggering numbers — are unfortunately still lacking.

When I think about my husband, his peers and the thousands of veterans in my district, I wonder why our nation continues to pour more and more money into intractable wars rather than finding lasting solutions for peace. Both professionally, as a state legislator and former chair of the Senate Committee overseeing Veterans Affairs, and personally, as a veteran’s spouse, I honor those in our families who have served.

This Veterans Day, I urge Congress to remember the sacrifice of our nation’s veterans, honor our commitment to those who serve, and to consider every option that keeps our troops out of harm’s way.

A question of priorities

Regrettably, Congress continues to allocate inordinate sums to the Pentagon budget, to the detriment of the domestic programs that are perpetually underfunded. Even in the budget deal signed in October, the Pentagon will receive the lion’s share of the discretionary budget, and an additional $59 billion in a special war spending slush fund. What does it say about our national priorities that year after year, the largest portion of the discretionary budget goes to weapons and war?

In a recent op-ed calling for an end to perpetual war in the Middle East, Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL-Minnesota, noted that, “With the money we’ve spent in Iraq and Syria, we could have rebuilt our crumbling roads and bridges, allowed every college student in America to graduate debt-free and still given beleaguered middle-class taxpayers a trillion-dollar tax break.” We certainly could have fully funded care for our veterans as well.

To prepare America for real 21st-century threats, economic competitiveness, and a growing veteran population, we must re-examine our federal budget priorities.

Instead, we remain on the same path. The Pentagon continues to spend on overbudgeted and overreaching weapons systems, such as Cold War era nuclear weapons and ineffective programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Taxpayer dollars are wasted on fraud, mismanagement and contractor greed. Adding insult to injury, the Pentagon is unable to properly audit and account for all those billions of dollars.

This summer taught us an important lesson about the power and effectiveness of diplomacy. Though it took several years, the United States and other international powers were able to reach a historic agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, averting yet another war in an unstable region. Sustained and determined diplomacy is more effective and significantly less costly than military solutions. Most important, effective diplomacy keeps our troops out of war.

Same old formula has destructive effects

On the heels of such a momentous diplomatic victory, our leaders in Washington must recognize that the same old formula of unchecked Pentagon spending and sustained violent conflict has destructive effects on our economy and those who bear the biggest burdens of the war — our troops and their families.

Our military strategy must have two components: using our forces in violent conflict only as a last resort, and taking care of our veterans when they return home.

It’s time for Congress to put our veterans ahead of political posturing. We owe our veterans an enormous debt, and as Americans, we can begin to repay that debt by making sure that the veterans who have returned home have access to the programs that serve them, such as job training, physical and mental health care, education and housing. We need to honor those among us who have served, not just with a token annual remembrance, but by taking real steps to meet their needs and keep them safe.

Sandy Pappas is president of the Minnesota Senate, representing District 65, and vice president of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a program of Women’s Action for New Directions.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 11/11/2015 - 11:31 am.

    So are we saying the VA with a budget of 66B does not have enough money to serve our Vets? If that is the case how much money will it take? Any chance of running an efficient VA for 66B or not? Will throwing more money at a clearly flawed system fix the system? Any thoughts of fixing VA system before throwing more money at it? Shouldn’t we be asking what more we can do to serve our Vets, get them timely care and see the proper Doctors? These along with many other questions should be addressed.

    The problem we have as a nation is we would rather throw money at it and called it solved rather than drill down and fix it. Shame on you Sen. Pappas for not giving us solutions to the problem of terrible care for our Vets…. The fact is if 66B is not enough please tell us a number that is. I would love to see a politician put his or her neck out and say at 86B I guarantee the best care for our Vets and if it doesn’t happen I will resign. Easy to call for more spending and blaming the other side, that after all is the Government way.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/11/2015 - 10:24 pm.

    Hidden Thesis?

    If we had no foreign wars, we’d need no armed forces, therefore, no military veterans programs.

    Is this the subtext of Sen. Pappas?

    If it just weren’t for all those pesky deadly antagonists around the world…

  3. Submitted by Patty Miller on 11/11/2015 - 10:26 pm.

    Armed Forces

    Joe smith why would you shame Senator Pappas??
    She gave a solution ..Try rereading her article again.

  4. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 11/23/2015 - 08:49 am.

    Concerned Veterans of America vs. VA

    The Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA) is under attack by an organization called “Concerned Veterans for America.” They are generously funded in their efforts by the main arm of the Koch Brothers’ political network, Freedom Partners, whose political giving for 2014 was recently revealed in their annual tax filing.

    They granted $12.7 Million to Concerned Veterans for America for “General Support.” It was Freedom Partners’ largest gift of the year.

    So what do the generous Koch Brothers expect from their gift to Concerned Veterans of America?
    1) Privatization of veterans’ health care
    2) Privatization of military retirement plans
    3) Organizing to repeal Obamacare
    3) Dismantling unions that work within the Department of Veterans Affairs

    The head of Concerned Veterans for America is Minnesota-grown and U.S. Military Academy educated Pete Hegseth, a graduate of Forest Lake High School.

    The VA is easy to attack since their shortcomings are highly publicized. It’s also easy to criticize the Pentagon, as DoD has been outed for discharging over 22,000 former soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen – with post traumatic stress or traumatic brain damage – with discharges that were NOT characterized as Honorable, AND left the veterans ineligible for services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    While only about one percent of American families have a member in the military, we should all be concerned about this, as veterans live among us. When a veteran has a bad day and has no resources to help them, the impact could be on you, your family, or your neighbor. As Mankato recently learned with a murder trial of a military veteran.

    As a story aired by National Public Radio recently revealed, a small number of veterans in this discharged-with-no-benefits group have received help from non-profit volunteers that have championed their cause to obtain benefits for the medical conditions that resulted from their military service. A veteran with no job, no home, and no benefits has an extreme challenge in trying to become a productive member of any community. Yes, We the People should be working to ensure the needed support services are available to all military veterans.

  5. Submitted by miki polumbaum on 03/23/2016 - 10:31 am.

    While it’s agreed that our veterans have gotten bad care,

    and that many of them who are seriously in need of physical/mental help have not received it, I’m also of the opinion that part of the solution would be to not have sent them to fight in useless, wrongheaded wars abroad to begin with, and not to continue to do so, either.

    The money spent on fighting all the wars (i. e. from the Korean War until now), could’ve been spent elsewhere, such as fixing our crumbling infrastructure, education, housing, job-training and the arts/cultures, and public transportation, not to mention tons of other stuff.

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