Remember our troops and vets

As President Obama and Congress discuss a solution to avoid the nation falling over the fiscal cliff, let me first propose that never again should politicians use the military the way the military is now being used in the cliff debate. The idea was to threaten cuts in defense so severe that politicians would be motivated to reach budget agreements. The reality is that while politicians maneuver, our troops remain in combat while their budget remains in limbo. Let’s remember that in the real life of a nation at war, the budget involves life-and-death matters for the troops who battle on our behalf. Let’s now consider a few matters of importance:

In The Washington Post on Dec. 9 there was an important op-ed by retired Army Gens. Peter Chiarelli and Dennis Reimer calling for policies that would reduce military suicides. They believe, very correctly, that Congress should restore the ability of commanders and noncommissioned officers to talk to service members about their private weapons, an ability that was inadvertently taken away in the 2011 Defense Authorization Act. Pending proposals would restore this ability. They should be enacted ASAP.

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Next, whatever the results of fiscal-cliff talks, funding for medical military research should not be cut and in fact should be increased. Battlefield medics perform brilliantly and heroically. Doctors and nurses in military hospitals perform invaluable services every hour of every day. Civilians who give their time, energy and donations to visiting and supporting wounded warriors should be applauded.

The need for the most advanced military medical research is greater than ever with our troops having served in combat for more than a decade, troop rotations extending well beyond historical time frames and new challenges of battlefield wounds and trauma resulting from the changing nature and extended duration of combat tours.

Let’s give a standing ovation and continuing support to two great leaders, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who leads the Veterans Affairs Administration and has made great progress reducing the number of homeless veterans, and Holly Petraeus, who leads the charge for protecting the consumer and financial rights of active-duty troops, their families and vets.

Gen. Shinseki and Mrs. Petraeus continue to perform great services for our country and those who serve. They deserve standing ovations and program support from all of us.

Let me emphasize again that defense and military spending should be part of efforts to lower the deficit, but should not be used as political tools. There are ways to lower the costs of budget provisions that include big-ticket procurements that often involve cost overruns, or involve systems the military does not seek that are included for political reasons. Cuts should not come from weapons or systems that protect the safety of troops or advance the missions they pursue.

As the holidays arrive we remember and support the many groups that stand with our troops and their families and deserve our time, energy and donations.