We owe our veterans more than a quick thank you once a year
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What does it mean to be patriotic? Earlier this week, the United States celebrated Veterans Day paying homage to those who have served this country. 

Over the last 17 years, I’ve seen ubiquitous “yellow ribbons” and “we support our troops” bumper stickers on the back of cars, trucks, and SUVs and heard seemingly endless “thank you for your service” spoken from thousands of Americans who have never served in uniform to the less than 6 percent who have. 

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True sacrifice has not been experienced by the citizens of this country in several decades; the last time the United States saw anything remotely related to a war tax was during the 1960s during the Vietnam War. In contemporary times, the population has not been asked to give up or forego any comforts, hasn’t been cajoled into uniform via draft, nor has the public had to feel the pinch of paying for the cost of combat in terms of increased taxes. Congress failed to implement a tax to Americans to pay for this war because they believed that it was unpatriotic; the government chose to pay for the war on credit. 

Brown University released its annual report earlier this week showing cost projections for the war on terror. The report estimates that the cost of this nation’s forays into Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and over 45 other countries throughout the globe (according to the Defense Department’s eligibility requirements for the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal) to end this current fiscal year to come in at $5.9 trillion. Moreover, when juxtaposing this dollar figure to what the country owes, one will see that it equates to almost 30 percent of the United States’ debt which is now well over $21 trillion.

The war continues. Many Americans remain clueless about the fact that we still have troops deployed in harm’s way. The nation’s debt continues to rise (at over $1,000,000 a minute) and we as a nation continue to kick the funding down the road saddling future generations with the bill. 

Other costs have been seen through the loss of lives and combat wounds attributed to this conflict. Earlier this month, Brown University’s Watson Institute reported on the human costs showing that almost 7,000 military personnel have died and over 50,000 service men and woman have been wounded in this campaign against terror.

If the citizens of this country are serious about continuing forward with our expedition regarding the global war on terror then we as Americans should debate the issue and if we determine that our patriotism is still high and our actions still warranted then we should all sacrifice by paying our fair share through taxes. If for no other reason, the debate can hold our elected leaders to task to help make it more likely that we have a winning strategy, a definition of what victory will look like, and as a way for us to move away from profligate spending on defense programs that are ineffective or useless. 

It is equally important for this country to continue to care for veterans who have been wounded and injured in the line of duty. Regardless of what the Brown University reports have shown, even if the country moves away from the global war on terror, the costs will continue for many decades as we care for those who have truly sacrificed for this country – the true patriots that are the men and women who have served our nation. 

This is increasingly important as our nation’s debt continues to rise. Our nation’s future depends on our elected officials being fiscally responsible and figuring out whether the fight against terror is worth it. And it’s the patriotic duty citizens to hold our leaders accountable for every penny spent and every life lost.

John M. Weaver is assistant professor and program coordinator of intelligence analysis at York College of Pennsylvania.