by Nickie Antonio
Nickie J. Antonio, State Representative is a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby, a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)
November 11th marks 94 years since President Woodrow Wilson declared Armistice Day in 1919. Though the day of remembrance has been expanded to include all veterans, not just those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and has been celebrated for decades, this year feels different.
The country is embroiled in a seemingly endless and acrimonious debate about the federal budget and Congress alternates between sitting on its collective hands and playing political chicken with the Affordable Care Act. This sort of political brinkmanship is putting at risk the programs that help returning veterans train to re-enter the job market and help military families pay for food and education costs for their children. In addition, this behavior puts the entire United States economy at risk. The military and their families, who volunteered to protect America and the ideals we stand for, deserve an economy which serves them at least as well as they serve us. Jeopardizing economic security is no way to honor these brave men and women.
This past August in a round table meeting with Senator Sherrod Brown, veterans reported a backlog of paperwork and processing between them and needed benefits for everything from PTSD to sleep disorders and hearing loss. Ohio was reported to have 17,180 claims in backlog out of a total 23,789 claim reported by the VA. At that time the Senator called on the VA to train more people to process the claims backlog and to be available to reach out to returning veterans to make them aware of benefits they could be eligible to claim. Certainly processing needed supports and resources for our returning veterans should be of the highest priority.
However, the Pentagon continues to invest in outdated and expensive weapons systems, such as the Cold War era nuclear arsenal as well as bloated and unneeded new programs, like the F-35 Strike Fighter Jet. Regrettably taxpayer dollars are being wasted as well on fraud, abuse, and contractor greed. We need instead to be looking towards the future, addressing the needs of modern servicemen, servicewomen, military families, and veterans. Reshaping the Pentagon’s budget would prepare America for real 21st threats and secure economic competitiveness, as well as ensure the funding of services that our nation’s veterans deserve.
Pentagon spending has skyrocketed to $640 billion a year, almost doubling since 2001. Committees in both the House and Senate voted to increase this budget in Fiscal Year 2014, a move that could necessitate additional cuts to other needed programs in order to keep overall spending within mandated spending caps dictated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
As a state legislator, I know too well the challenge of budgeting in these difficult economic times. The kind of political brinksmanship seen in Congress of late only makes state budget-writing more difficult. Rather than focusing on political gain, Congress should put the livelihoods and needs of our constituents first, ahead of political posturing.
This Veterans Day, Congress needs to decide if it is fighting for economic security, American strength, and the ability to support our returning veterans and their families or siding with special interests and continuing to spend billions on wasteful, outdated and unnecessary programs that don’t make a real contribution to our security and that, in many cases, the Pentagon itself would like to see eliminated.
Nickie J. Antonio is a State Representative in Ohio and a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby, a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).