As Congress eyes cuts, veterans' benefits must remain sacred

The report reminds us that we still don’t know what the total legacy of these conflicts — especially the long-term cost of injury and illness for veterans — will be. So far, about half of the 1.25 million American military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated in the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system or have filed disability claims. As members of our military continue to return home, and as they age, the costs for caring for them will certainly rise.

The cost of these wars and the impact on the deficit present a significant challenge to our nation. But cutting veterans benefits could have an even more detrimental effect on our society and economy. We need to remember that the worst burdens of these wars have fallen on veterans and their families. Returning veterans have higher rates of suicide and mental illness, increased drug and alcohol dependence and higher rates of violence. Those high-risk behaviors have resulted in elevated numbers of car crashes and drug overdoses, elevated levels of homelessness and divorce. 

Veterans from all conflicts currently qualify for benefits that help them deal with the emotional, physical and financial effects of returning home from war now and in the future. From healthcare and disability benefits to education and training to home loan guarantees, these benefits help our veterans acclimate back into civilian life and remain healthy, contributing members of society. By keeping our veterans healthy — both physically and mentally — employed and sheltered, they will have less need for other, more expensive and less efficient federal safety-net programs.

The toll of these wars in terms of human and economic costs will continue for decades, so it’s imperative to remember that caring for our nation’s sick and disabled veterans and their families is a sacred obligation — one promised to them when they volunteered their service, not merely a line item in the federal budget. As Congress and the president continue to debate a deficit and debt compromise, it’s essential they remember that the resources to meet the needs of our veterans must be sustained and guaranteed.

Wallace E. "Wally" Tyson, a service-connected, disabled Vietnam era veteran with more than twelve years service in the United States Army has served as the National Commander of the 1.2 million-member Disabled American Veterans since 2010.

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