Decades of war have left an unhealed wound on this country. Millions of veterans, from people I served with in the Vietnam era to the service members deployed multiple times since the war in Afghanistan began, struggle to get the help they need to recover. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, more than 400,000 veterans’ benefits claims are stuck in a backlog. I see how this delay hinders veterans’ recovery every day as I volunteer to help them file claims to get the care they need.    

If we want to truly heal that wound, the worst thing we can do is start another costly and unnecessary war. But Congress is poised to put us on the path toward one if they’re not careful.

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After more than a decade of thinking every problem is a nail we can hit with our military hammer, the United States is showing how diplomacy can work. Last month, a historic agreement between Iran and the US and its negotiating partners went into effect.

This would be remarkable enough for the mere fact that our countries are talking to each other after more than three decades of hostility. But more important, it does exactly what the president and members of Congress have said they wanted to see for years: it verifiably rolls back Iran’s nuclear program.  

The momentum from those negotiations continues. Last week’s talks in Vienna produced a timetable and framework for negotiation of a longer-term deal that can cool down simmering tension between our countries.

Despite that achievement, some members of Congress seem determined to sabotage negotiations. Fifty-nine senators are cosponsoring a bill that would enact additional sanctions on Iran, dictate unrealistic goals for a long-term deal, and throw in support for an Israeli attack on Iran for bad measure. There are discussions on the House side about a companion bill or some other counterproductive legislation that would micromanage the diplomatic process.

None of them has offered up a persuasive rationale for piling on when we’re seeing diplomatic progress. The Iranian government has been clear that they’re prepared to walk if Congress takes action that demonstrates bad faith. There’s no reason to think they’re bluffing.

Bernadette Meehan, spokesperson for the National Security Council was clear: "If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed."

Anyone who claims that such a military operation would amount to nothing more than a few surgical strikes is dishonest or deluded. Former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs General James Cartwright argued that a military strike would do nothing but delay Iran’s nuclear program, and completely eliminating the intellectual capital necessary to restart the program would take “tens of years” of occupation. We can’t think of sending soldiers into another war if we can’t look them in the eye and tell them we exhausted every possible diplomatic option.

There is no good alternative to negotiations, and Congress has to take responsibility for possibly jeopardizing talks and making a war far more likely. There will be no excuses or pretending they didn’t know the risk. Negotiating a long-term deal won’t be easy, but it’s far easier than another devastating war that our veterans and Iranian civilians will bear the burdens of years into the future.

Members of Congress will face intense pressure to “get tough” on Iran in the coming weeks.  We should stand behind those who support the diplomatic process and hold accountable those who threaten it with provocative and unnecessary actions. It’s the only option we have that doesn’t risk creating more veterans we can’t take care of and lets us focus our energy on healing our existing wounds.

Mills served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1969.  He is an Accredited Independent VA Claims Agent who volunteers at GI Voice/Coffee Strong in Lakewood, Washington.