Last night my husband and I went to see ‘Lone Survivor’. As a military spouse, as an American and as a human being, it was incredibly hard to watch. I left the theatre in tears. I left disturbed. I left heartbroken.
The movie in no way glorified the act of war. In fact, it was a stark reminder that war is hell. That impossible decisions must be made, there are unsung heroes who will never be recognized for their bravery, that blood is shed, that people die horrific deaths.
Then this morning I read an article about a proposal to push working-age military retirees out of Tricare Prime. The article says that move could save the Pentagon nearly $90 billion dollars over the next 10 years. The article also talks about a “cost cutting option” that would require military retirees’ to pay even more to fund their own healthcare.
My tears and heartbreak shifted. Today, with the images from the film fresh on my mind, and with all of the recent work we have been doing with the #KeepYourPromise campaign… my emotion has changed.
I am hurt. I feel betrayed. I am angry, furious… downright PISSED OFF!
When did this shift in Washington DC happen? Our leaders and congressmen… when did they go from using words like ‘hero’ and ‘warrior’, ‘promise to protect at all costs’ to talk about our troops and veterans… to using words like ‘personnel costs’ and ‘working-age retirees’ and ‘healthcare drains’? When did they stop caring about the faces with the names, and the collective costs their decisions have cost the military?
They have now received a bill from our Veterans for services rendered… blood shed, limbs lost, brain injuries, mental injuries, anxiety, stress, strain on relationships, families upset… and upon receiving the bill, upon looking at the price tag… they have decided the price is NOW too high to pay.
Actions matter more than words. What you DO for our troops matters far more than what you SAY. The fact that anyone in our government would even SUGGEST saving $90 billion dollars at the expense of our troops and veterans makes my blood boil.
But I don’t put the blame squarely on our elected leaders. Nope. I blame every single American. WE have all created this problem, whether by circumstance or design. WE have based our voting decisions on a variety of factors, most of them selfish. WE have decided that our soapbox issues or OUR cause or OUR interests are the most important, and have screamed at Congress so loudly from all angles that we have rendered our voices useless.
WE have become so politically divided in this country because WE refuse to listen to each other and realize that perhaps we might have common ground that politicians just keep spending, spending, spending to make everyone happy. And look where it has landed us.
Yes, I blame every American.
Every American except for the men and women who have volunteered to train, fight and DIE for this country.
Because they cannot speak up for themselves. They cannot scream. They do not have a union. They have the Joints Chiefs of Staff, who have declared that “the military don’t need a union, they have us.”
The military are counting on the American people to defend them. The military are counting on every American the way we counted on them to defend us on 9/12/2001. Yes, 9/12. Remember how YOU felt the day AFTER our nation was attacked? That is how military feel TODAY.
And right now, the American people are failing them.
More than 2.5 million service men and women have deployed since 2001 to Iraq or Afghanistan. Over 400,000 of them have deployed three or more times. It is estimated that over 400,000 from these two wars have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Traumatic Brain Injury is estimated at over 300,000. We have over 50,000 wounded from these wars.
And, almost 7,000 paid the ultimate price by coming home in a flag draped coffin.
How do we repay them? We repay them by saying that they are still of working age, so it shouldn’t matter if they have to get another job or find another way to provide health care for their families. We repay them by threatening to not pay them a couple of times a year when Congress fails to do their job and pass a budget, again. We repay them by daring to compare what they do to anything in the civilian world. We repay them by debating if their benefits are too generous. We repay them by reducing their earned deferred compensation by up to $124,000 and telling them it’s not really a pay cut.
WE, the American public, asked these men and women to go to war. They signed up so that WE would not have to lie awake at night wondering if OUR sons and daughters would be drafted to fight in the next war.
I can clearly remember the conversation my husband and I had when he was a little over half-way to retirement and we were discussing re-enlistment. As a family we watched the twin towers fall and felt the immediate change in our community. We had already driven him to the unit to say goodbye to him as he left to go to Iraq, not knowing if he had would ever return. We had moved several times. We had gone through the re-integration process. My husband had already served his country honorably for over a decade. There would be no shame in getting out.
But we made the decision, as a family, to continue military service. My husband wanted to make sure he was providing certain things for his family. Things that the government promised him. He re-enlisted to take care of his family. And yes, he re-enlisted to do what needed to be done to protect this nation.
Right now we feel betrayed, lied to and cheated on… by the very nation my husband agreed to protect for now 18 years.
I think back to all of the goodbyes since re-enlisting. I think back to all of the re-integration struggles. I think back to all of the missed firsts, and lasts, and holidays and birthdays and milestones. I think of all the subtle changes I have seen in our entire family as a result of my husband’s continued service. I wonder how many changes are still yet to be seen.
And now it doesn’t seem like it was worth it after all. We did our part. My husband CERTAINLY did his. And now, we are being told ‘Sorry. We just can’t afford it.’
Many Americans think this doesn’t concern them. And, they’d be wrong. Because here is the thing:
Our Veterans are the first ones to encourage young people to join the military. Military families are fiercely proud of the Armed Forces and encourage young people, including their own children to serve. 1 out of 3 currently serving, grew up in the military. But that is changing. I know that this military family will not be encouraging anyone to ever serve if our elected leaders do not put their own personal political concerns aside and DO THE RIGHT THING. If these promises are broken… you will never see me encourage anyone to join. Because they will not be able to trust their government to honor their words.
And fighting in wars for a government you can’t trust? Not something I will encourage. I don’t think I am alone.
The next war is coming. I believe that. It is totally naïve of any American to believe it isn’t. Just look around you, read the news, watch as other nations elevate to engagement.
War is coming. And when it does, will there be enough people willing to put their lives on the line to fight in it? Because someONE will have to serve.
Only time will tell. But if there are not enough volunteers, the long-term consequences of government that broke faith with a volunteer military will put us all at risk of a draft. And, honestly? Perhaps that is what America needs. If we are only thinking of ourselves, perhaps sending OUR sons and daughters to war instead of our neighbors will make us think harder about how we treat those sons and daughters when they come home.
Perhaps if it were YOUR son, or YOUR daughter who was the Lone Survivor you’d be more likely to fight now.