The conflict in Afghanistan might be coming to an end but the men and women who served in may still have a long way to go.
Norb Ryan, a retired vice admiral who’s now the president and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America says that mental, physical and financial well-being for military personnel should be the top priority next year.
Norb Ryan’s Top 3 for 2013
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to draw down, the general public and political and defense leaders alike increasingly are taking the service and sacrifice of military members and families for granted. We tend to value the sacrifice of our military families in the thick of war, but devalue and forget about their service when wars wind down. Military members, especially career military members, do not lead a life anywhere comparable to civilian workers and we are only beginning to understand the strain of 13 years of war. Some reports are saying that the expense of dealing with military families’ and veterans’ issues (e.g., the cost of providing longer-term care for the wounded, PTSD, and TBI and sustaining the essential incentives that have served to sustain a strong, high-quality career force over decades of hot and cold wars) are becoming a “burden.” The real burden will be making sure members of the media and our political and defense leaders don’t walk away from a solemn commitment to our military families. We should not balance our budget and solve our economic problems on the backs of our military families. We will need to help our fellow citizens and leaders remember that next year.
We seem to take DOD’s word as gospel on some things, then challenge them on other things, depending on our political persuasions. Some so-called non-partisan think tanks are having a heyday repackaging and disseminating DoD-generated misinformation about allegedly spiraling costs of military personnel and health care. In fact, these costs are right where they’ve been for the past 30 years – about one-third of the defense budget. The fact is that the Defense Department leadership has failed to correct the vast waste in the defense budget. DoD accounting systems are so mismanaged and nonfunctional that decades of reports have declared them to be inauditable, and DoD can’t account for billions in expenditures. The military health care system itself is rife with waste, maintaining three duplicative service health delivery systems and multiple major contractors, all of whom compete counterproductively for budget share. DoD leaders should be correcting their own mismanagement and disorganization problems rather than seeking to shift the blame (and the cost) for their mismanagement onto military beneficiaries who have sacrificed more for our country than any other group of Americans.
Once again, as budget constraints become greater and greater, there is a growing tendency to sacrifice long-term national needs for short-term budgetary purposes. Because recruiting and retention aren’t problems today, we want to budget as if they never will be. We forget that the economy and private sector job opportunities will only be better in the future than they are now, and that it will be harder in the future to recruit and retain top-quality personnel for a career. As we look forward to the end of the current war, we want to act (and budget) as if we’ll never go to war again. But the reality is that world events change suddenly, and those dictate our national priorities in unexpected ways. We never expected on 9/10/01 that we’d spend the next 11 years at war. But we don’t seem to learn from past lessons.