Chris Heckman is a Navy veteran living in Springdale.
It’s been a year since Ohioans learned of a hidden threat to those who defend our freedom: The Veterans Affairs hospital system. Veterans who put their lives on the line were forced to endure excessive wait times before seeing their VA doctors. News broke about many veterans who waited so long that their conditions worsened or, in some unfortunate cases, they died. Although wait times at the Cincinnati VA are now comparatively low, veterans across the country often still have to wait over a month to see a VA doctor.
Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of threats like this. Our foreign policy has left room for weakness. Our government engages in wasteful spending on all levels, including in the military budget. And our troops – the heroes who make our defense possible – often find themselves treated like an afterthought.
If we are to act in defense of freedom, these are obstacles we must face – and overcome.
The Middle East is in disarray, and in many places at the mercy of dangerous radicals. Last month we saw the fall of another major city in Iraq. Yet in spite of constantly redrawn “red lines,” our policies have allowed the region to destabilize. Our engagements there and around the world are too often dictated by politics, rather than what’s best for America’s national security.
And back at home we endanger ourselves by spending well beyond our means. Military leaders agree that our national debt poses the greatest risk to our security. But rather than work towards a balanced budget, Congress spends more and more with each passing year. Wasteful federal budgets continue to grow our now $18 trillion national debt, threatening our nation in numerous ways.
We also overspend within our military. Simply increasing the military budget is not a reliable way to protect our nation. We need smart spending just as we need smart bombs, but military policy and the inflexibility surrounding it has made careful spending impossible. Replacing the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, named for our state, is just one example of spending for which no price tag seems to be too high. It’ll cost $12.4 billion just to build the first replacement ship, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would cost $107 billion to complete the entire program.
The Department of Defense is the only federal department that hasn’t been audited. Just one recent smaller-scale audit uncovered $1 million of DOD money spent on casinos and adult entertainment. If we can identify and eliminate all misuse and waste of the department’s funds, we can make sure that taxpayers’ hard-earned money goes where it belongs: toward the technology and the troops that keep our nation safe.
And finally, America needs to place a renewed emphasis on dignity and respect for the troops. Far too many troops on active duty are kept out of the voting process; absentee ballot requests for Ohio’s active-duty armed service members dropped 70 percent in the 2012 election, compared to 2008.
We have to build a movement to make sure these challenges are met. There are already solutions on the table – we just need to make sure our leaders implement them.