The Best Way to say thank you to a vet on Veterans Day — Fix the VA

This weekend and on Monday we salute our veterans: Past, present, old, young, those who served in combat and those who have not.

Each and every one of them answered the call to defend freedom at all costs to benefit something larger than themselves; the greater good of the United States of America.

There are currently over 20 million veterans in America. Each one has a story, has family, and friends. Each with hopes and aspirations for the future. Each put them on hold to defend the Red, White, and Blue.

President John F. Kennedy once said on Veterans Day, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that our highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

How do we thank our veterans? 

Not with a handshake or a hug, but with a population that understands their sacrifices do not come without a price and by ensuring that all of our nation’s heroes receive the proper care and benefits they deserve when they come home from war and transition back into civilian life.

That means not having to suffer through the bureaucratic disarray of the Department of Veterans Affairs or trying to find work in an unstable economy where post 9/11 veterans faced 10.1% unemployment in September.

It means that our nation and government have our veterans best interest as their priority. Our veterans deserve better than what they are currently facing.

Instead, veterans were recently locked out of their war memorials that they fought for, that their friends died for.

They were told that their benefits checks would not go out during the partial government shutdown.

Death gratuity benefits were initially denied to grieving families of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Many veterans are struggling to find work as unemployment for post 9/11 veterans has consistently been in the double digits in recent months.

Some employers are apprehensive about hiring veterans because of the outrageous PTSD stereotype that follows our modern vets due to the false stigma about PTSD in the media and Hollywood.

On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every single day.

The Department of Veterans Affairs data shows that more than one third of new mental health care patients have to wait more than the standard of 14 days to receive an appointment. And in some instances, veterans have to wait more than a month to receive care.

The VA has the funding, the assets, and the personnel to prevent this from happening, but instead our veterans are not receiving the adequate care they deserve.

The VA claims backlog is still out of control.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans have to wait well over a year to receive an answer on the decision of their enrollment eligibility for a first time claim. And follow-on claims or disputed claims can take years to receive an answer.

The VA is not performing as the service oriented department it was intended for. Instead veterans are suffering the stresses and hassles of a dysfunctional bureaucracy.

This is not the environment or the treatment that veterans deserve to come home to after putting their life on the line day in and day out.

If we allow this to continue, what does this say about us as a nation?  Are we are so willing to look past the current status quo of our veterans?

Right now there are still 54,500 US troops fighting the war in Afghanistan. That’s 54,500 people who are missing their families, missing their way of life and missing the freedoms that we as Americans get to enjoy each and everyday.

And you can bet that every time they wake up and strap on their boots before heading out on a patrol, a raid, a convoy or a flight that they remember why they chose to fight for freedoms and liberties that make this nation extraordinary.

Because it’s those who have answered the call to serve, those who are willing to sacrifice, and those that believe our nation should be handed down to future generations as we found it, they are the ones who truly understand the price of freedom.

This freedom that we have grown so accustomed to, that many take for granted in their everyday lives, is a privilege, not a right, which must be preserved.

It is bigger than you and me.

It is a vision of hope, opportunity, and prosperity.

It is fragile, yet resilient and will be defended at all costs.

Our veterans are our nation’s heroes. They stepped up to fight our nation’s wars without question or doubt.

They don’t ask to be paid as much as politicians or NFL players or to be Hollywood celebrities. Instead, they believe in their hearts that our unique nation, the United States of America, is not only worth fighting for, but worth dying for.

They believe the freedoms and liberties that make it exceptional are worth preserving at all costs. They ask for very little, if anything in return for putting their lives on the line.

They understand that they are contributing to the greater good for the sake of our future. The least we can do to show our appreciation is demand that our veterans are being taken care of when they come home.

So this Veterans Day think of what you can do to make our nation a better place here on the home front.

There is still plenty of work to be done. Because if you really want to thank our veterans for their sacrifices, their service to our nation, and for their dedication, we can do so by ensuring they are coming home to the America they fought for and that many died for.

It is because of them that we are able to enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we have grown so fond of.

It is because of them every American has the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. And it is because of them that we are still the most exceptional nation on earth.

Originally published at FoxNews.com http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/11/09/best-way-to-say-thank-to-vet-on-veterans-day-fix-va/

 

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The Government’s ‘Use it or Lose it’ Syndrome

While a government shutdown appears imminent, due to political gridlock surrounding budget negotiations, the government has continued to do what they do best: spend taxpayer dollars. Most agencies’ primary concern over the past week has been to spend the remainder of their fiscal year budget instead of relinquishing the unused funds to help save money.

This so-called ‘use it or lose it’ culture promotes wasteful spending and an overall lack of concern for fiscal responsibility. It’s part of the dysfunctional bureaucratic attitude in Washington that prevails across all sections of the federal government.

The fiscal year ends on September 30 and the new fiscal year begins October 1. This ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy means that every agency must use all of the funds allotted to them for the fiscal year by today or that money will be lost and they won’t be able to use it. In that event, Congress could decide that since that particular agency didn’t use all of the funds allotted to them, the amount of money in future budgets should be cut.

So basically every year around September, you see a huge spending spree from government agencies. The reality is that an agency is penalized for saving money and given a pat on the back for spending it, no matter what it’s spent on.

This weekend, The Washington Post reportedThe Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork. In a single day, the Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges. And in a single purchase, the Coast Guard spent $178,000 on ‘Cubicle Furniture Rehab.’”

Now you would think that in a time of budget cuts and austerity those agencies could find a better use for their funds. Instead of buying artwork, the VA could have met some veterans’ disability claims, or implement a bonus incentive to employees who are processing the most. How about hiring more medical staff at VA hospitals? And ‘Cubicle Furniture Rehab’ is a fancy way of saying they bought a large amount of unnecessary office furniture to make employees offices shiny and pretty.

If congress is serious about spending reform and budget cuts they must acknowledge the perverse incentives at work. They might want to start with the backwards, illogical fiscal year ‘use or lose’ culture inside the government that promotes waste and irresponsibility. They can make all of the cuts they want, but until they get to the root of the problem — the endemic spending culture — real reform will not occur. And it isn’t going to be simple, which is why most politicians won’t address it. Most would rather make untargeted cuts to the military that only mask the problem.

Spending reform starts with acknowledging where the problem lies. Leadership must address the ‘use or lose’ race to September 30th that happens at the end of every fiscal year is horrifically wasteful and further promotes fiscal irresponsibility. Accountability must take precedence government wide if there is any hope of progress. Agencies need to be incentivized to save money and their surplus funds should be allowed to be roll over into the next fiscal year. Only then will we see change. Until that happens we are only going to see more threats of government shutdowns, more shifting of blame, and more wasteful spending.

This is government hypocrisy at its finest. In the midst of sequestration, budget cuts and a looming government shutdown, agencies across the board are still free to spend as wastefully as they see fit. It’s this lack of accountability and lack of common sense that is constantly plaguing our government. It is a vicious and inept cycle and we, as American taxpayers, are the ones paying the price for their negligence.

Originally published at The Daily Caller: http://dailycaller.com/2013/09/30/on-the-verge-of-shutdown-government-agencies-are-still-wasting-hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollards/

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The Money is Gone: Army Feeling the Pressure of Sequestration

Budget cuts to the Department of Defense (DOD) are not going to stop anytime soon. The DOD was hit with $37 billion in cuts this year and is likely to face an additional $52 billion in cuts next year.

But the Army is missing the big picture when it comes to handling sequestration. It should be about making the right cuts verses the easy cuts the first time around—in order to avoid having to deal with the same problem in the near future. Unfortunately, that’s not the approach they’re taking.

A case in point is last week’s memo from Army leadership ordering commanders and staff to develop a comprehensive plan to cut 25 percent of the budget and personnel at all Army headquarters with the rank of 2-star and above. The deadline for the plans is in nearly two weeks, on September 11, 2013.

From the text of the memo:

Let there be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness. We expect Army leaders, military and civilian, to seize this opportunity to re-shape our Army. This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities…

…. To ensure Army readiness at these reduced budget levels, we must make the best and maximum use of every single dollar provided to the Army.

While headquarter reductions are necessary, especially as the Afghanistan war is coming to a close, giving the Review Group a two week deadline is only setting them up for failure. There is no doubt the Review Group will meet the deadline. But it will merely mean decisions will be rushed and the outcome will likely be ill-considered and incomprehensible, rather than the careful, strategic consideration of future needs that is required.

These cuts are essential but the Review Group must be given the adequate time to make decisions that will effectively reduce unnecessary spending. Forcing commanders and other military personnel to make these decisions in two weeks is illogical and will only result in poor decision-making and reduced readiness.

Originally published at: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/08/23/the-money-is-gone-army-feeling-the-pressure-of-sequestration/#sthash.lGxzJect.dpuf

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The Debt Isn’t Going To Fix Itself

Convincing politicians to deal with the debt is like convincing someone to quit smoking. People know it’s bad for them, but don’t want to make any changes because in the short term they see no effects, even if they know that eventually, their habit is likely to kill them.

With all of the commotion in Washington, it is easy to overlook  our nation’s spending addiction. The debt is rapidly approaching $17 trillion, just another record level of debt, but it’s hardly news since the next record is just around the corner. Both Congress and the President seem to welcome the opportunity to turn America’s attention elsewhere.  The government spying on American citizens, the IRS targeting conservative groups, and the State Department’s failure with Benghazi are all issues that require attention, but they cannot be used as an excuse to postpone handling the debt crisis.

Americans need to send politicians a simple message when it comes to the debt:  Enough with the political small talk. We want action. We the People want spending reform and debt management to become a priority. We know that serious consequences face our nation if our debt problem continues to be ignored and mismanaged.

Sequestration helped reduce the deficit on a very small scale, but it is far from a solution to our spending problem. It is merely a temporary band-aid to a long term, severe problem. Until the White House and Congress, on both sides of the aisle, wake up and come to terms that the debt is not going to fix itself, there will be no change to the nation’s spending habits.

Importantly, any serious conversation about the spending problem has to begin with an adult discussion of reforming entitlement programs.  Sadly, no one seems to want to address the elephants in the room: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs. Some perspective: entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and safety net programs make up 64% of the total budget while the Department of Defense makes up 17%. This was one of the key problems with sequestration:

Half of the cuts from sequestration went to the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon needs spending reform like every other department across our government, but putting the majority of the cuts on defense is foolish and allowed America to avoid a much needed, more urgent conversation about the real drivers of our fiscal imbalance, entitlement programs.  Sequestration also failed to target those areas of the budget, including the defense budget that would be the best for reductions.  This year, for example, the Pentagon was able to make the majority of the cuts through civilian employee furloughs and military training cuts.  But if sequestration happens again for fiscal year 2014, as it seems increasingly likely, it’s not going to be as easy as furloughing civilian employees or canceling public tours at the White House. This time military troops will directly feel the effects of sequestration. There will be a reduction in force (meaning soldiers will be involuntarily forced out of the military), less training, outdated weaponry, technology, and equipment. This will significantly affect our military readiness and eventually weaken our defense

This doesn’t need to happen, and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

More members of Congress must realize that all politicians are going to have to make sacrifices and consider sensible changes to even popular programs if we are going to move toward a stable fiscal situation Reforming entitlement programs—yes, that means touching those third rails of politics—must become a priority, as we cannot afford them in their current state.  This means that all Americans have to encourage this conversation and make politicians pay a penalty for avoiding this topic.

It may be easy to forget about the accruing national debt—how many millions more were added, just in the time it took you to read this short piece?—but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious issue.  We need to make real spending reform a priority today, before it’s too late.

Originally Published at The Tennessean: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20130802/OPINION03/308020047/2071/OPINION?nclick_check=1

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No Relief in Sight for Wasteful Spending at the Pentagon

The Pentagon is at it again. More wasteful, out of control spending with zero accountability. This time the Pentagon is buying $554 million worth of Russian helicopters for the Afghan military that are unable to properly sustain such a fleet.

A lot of consideration goes into operating and maintaining a military helicopter fleet. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of forethought happening inside the Pentagon when it comes to buying Afghanistan new helicopters. The Pentagon continues to defend its decision to spend $554 million of taxpayer dollars on a contract that will buy 30 Mi-17 Russian helicopters for the Afghan military. The Afghan military currently has a helicopter fleet of Mi-17s, but due to maintenance neglect and the age of the aircraft, the Pentagon claims they need new ones to replace the neglected ones.

You don’t just buy millions of dollars worth of helicopters and say ‘here you go’ and expect them to successfully operate an aviation unit the way the U.S. military does. These helicopters don’t fly themselves, maintain themselves, or fix themselves. An effective maintenance program is crucial for an operational aviation fleet. The Afghan troops do not have the training or capability to operate and maintain these helicopters.

Not only is the Afghan military unable to maintain these aircraft, they do not have the manpower to fly them. CBS News reported:

The wing was to have 806 personnel by mid-2015, but as of late January had just 180, according to the report. Filling out the wing’s ranks won’t be easy, the report said, due to challenges of finding Afghan recruits who are literate in their own language, competent in English and can pass the strict, 18- to 20-month U.S. vetting process that includes eliminating candidates who have ties to criminal or insurgent activities.

Another key shortcoming is the dearth of pilots capable of flying at night, when most counter terrorism missions are conducted. As of late January, only seven of the 47 pilots assigned to the wing were fully mission qualified to fly with night vision goggles, the report said.

These are issues that cannot and will not be fixed in the immediate future. It takes years to properly train pilots, mechanics, and instructors and provide them with the experiences needed to become efficient. Afghanistan just isn’t there yet. Even the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found so many shortcomings to the program that it recommended that the purchase of these helicopters be put on hold until the Afghan military is capable of such a program.

But this isn’t a trial and error program to see if the Afghan military is able to sustain a fleet of M-17s (they have had Mi-17s for years).  It’s been tried. It failed. And now we are throwing $554 million in helicopters to them? This is backward logic. You don’t throw money or helicopters at a problem and expect it to fix itself.

The bottom line is the Pentagon continues spending irresponsibly with zero consequences for their wasteful spending habits. The U.S. is nearly $17 trillion in debt thanks to out of control and reckless spending. Stop wasting our money on ‘bridges to nowhere.’ We need common sense, spending reform, and accountability. Oh, and you might want to start listening to the recommendations of the SIGAR.

Additionally published at: http://www.concernedveteransforamerica.org/2013/08/01/no-relief-in-sight-for-wasteful-spending-at-the-pentagon/#sthash.yMA70MxU.dpuf

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Are All Veterans Created Equal?

There are few things more humbling and patriotic than witnessing a military funeral. Viewing the military customs, the decorative uniforms, and hearing taps echo through the trees, help those in attendance understand and appreciate their sacrifice.

It is an honour. It is a tradition. It is a service that is bestowed only to the finest men and women this country has to offer, its veterans.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan wrote an opinion piece last week that addressed the nation’s debt crisis, offering a solution by starting with cutting military funeral honors. McClellan went as far to say that ‘most veterans did nothing heroic,’ implying veterans’ military funerals are a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Well Mr. McClellan, I beg to differ.

Veterans are heroic. Each and every one of them. It doesn’t matter if they served as a cook or as an Infantryman. No matter the reason, each veteran felt the need to serve his or her country, which is heroic enough in itself. We need more brave men and women like our veterans in this country.

They understood the need to protect something larger than themselves and defend this great nation that has provided so many opportunities for so many people. They all take the same oath to protect and serve the United States of America no matter what the job title.

By joining the military, each person knows that there is a significant chance he or she could end up fighting our nation’s wars where their outcome is unknown. While certain jobs may be considered more dangerous than another, one does not diminish the other. The military is a team effort and it does not succeed with out the combined force. Each and every veteran matters. Our Nation’s veterans are not expendable and either are the honors they have respectfully earned.

McClellan stated “Everybody knows government needs to cut costs,” before making the recommendation that we start by stripping veterans of the honours they undoubtedly deserve, he may want to dig a bit deeper and see what the federal government is spending tax dollars on.

Might I suggest that McClellan research the area of government waste to discover the plethora of ‘smaller programs’ that could be at the top of the list above making any cuts to veterans programs. Make cuts in areas that are wasting taxpayer dollars. Do not disrespect the small but significant percentage of people who have defended our country so bravely.

Our veterans do not deserve to suffer for the inabilities of political leadership. They deserve to be recognised by the federal government with military honors if they so desire.

I’ve been to military funerals. I’ve served on military funeral details. I’ve been a military pallbearer. Let me tell you that it does matter.

It makes a difference to families and friends. It matters to fellow veterans. It matters that we as a nation value honoring all of our veterans who have done so much for our country. I for one think it is a disgrace to attack our veterans’ military honors for fiscal mismanagement.

Follow Amber on Twitter at @AmberBarno

Published at The Commentator: http://www.thecommentator.com/article/3115/are_all_veterans_created_equal