Susan Shaer and Tony Shaffer
Should we have a draft for our military? Maybe it could be like an athletic or college draft. Let the military draft who they need to fill their jobs. Anyone might be chosen, even the sons or daughters of members of Congress. Maybe we would stop short of putting “boots on the ground” if our children were part of the draft, or a lottery. Maybe we would fully fund veterans’ benefits if anyone’s child could become a veteran and need help.
There was a concept in the late 1950s that “citizenship” could be tied directly to military service – as noted in the classic Hugo Award winning Robert Heinlein story, Starship Troopers. To become a citizen, you must first have proven yourself.
However, we do not live in such a world. We have a military force in which the proof of courage is borne by those who volunteer to defend our nation. Within this context we continue to push our military forces to be the “best that they can be,” sometimes without the proper armor or tools to fight the war they are in.
Then, when they come home, tired, maimed, depressed, and without a win to boost their spirits, they are met with a society that at best casually “thanks them for their service” while Congress underfunds what they need.
Thanks to the ongoing scandals at the Veterans’ Administration, everyone now knows that veterans’ health services pale in comparison to what is needed. Yes, veterans now more often live instead of dying on the fields of battle thanks to modern medicine and quick response to fallen soldiers. They live to come home to a system that is broken at best and a nightmare at worst.
Their mental trials and late-breaking illnesses are sometimes met with skepticism and long waits. They commit suicide in record numbers: some say 22 a day. Notably, this is the first war in which combat losses are eclipsed by suicide – a staggering fact. Veterans come back with medical problems that sometimes do not surface for years, or decades – failing mental health and the physical wounds of battle can result in death without proper and continuous care.
We have seen the pictures of miracle limbs for some. But for many, nothing. Their pain creates family and community problems: divorces, violence, rampant alcohol and drug abuse.
On this Veterans Day, we are definitely patriots. We honor our veterans and worry that the decades-long wars we have experienced never included planning for the needs of veterans. And we are ashamed of a government that refuses to provide what they need. As we go in to yet another war, this time in Syria, and possibly send troops elsewhere, we denounce the bloated slush fund Congress will no doubt pass that provides funding for future wars without any regard to equal funding to assist the veterans of those future wars.
If we go to war, we must plan for returning veterans and their needs. Every time we go to war, we must think: How should we fund this war, and at what expense? What are we not paying for? At the very least, we must plan to pay for veterans.
This is not an athletic draft or a university trying to fill in their needs for the student body, and this is not a dystopian society where people are forced into service to prove worth of being a citizen. We can’t charge more at the gate, or get ad revenue for games, or more from our alums. The taxpayers pay for our wars, and sending resources to war detracts from other needs. It looks like now it comes from the veteran’s pockets, lives and health.
Shaer is the executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions, a national women’s peace and security organization. She is founder and co-chair of Win Without War, founder and steering committee member of the Pentagon Budget Campaign. Shaffer is a CIA-trained former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation “Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan – And The Path to Victory.” His latest book is “The Last Line.” He is a senior fellow with both the London Center for Policy Research and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.