Commentary by Jane Horton, a political consultant, veterans’ activist, and proud Gold Star wife to Spc. Christopher Horton, an Army sniper killed in action on September 9, 2011 in Paktyia, Afghanistan.
As an advocate for veterans, military families, and families of the fallen, I meet with military families on a regular basis, and I have witnessed how hard many of them struggle to make ends meet, particularly those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one who gave their all in service to this nation. Many survivors of fallen service members were dependent on their fallen to support their family.
One of their few sources of security is our nation’s longstanding commitment to caring for the families of those who have given all on the field of combat. But watching the recent debate in Washington over this year’s federal budget, which includes reductions to benefits for military retirees and survivors, I’m concerned that Congress and President Obama are losing sight of that commitment to our veterans and military families, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and no longer can fight for the benefits they earned and died for.
[sharequote align="center"]If we’re asking veterans to accept cuts, then we should apply the same principle to Social Security.[/sharequote]
Specifically, the cuts would reduce cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for many military retirees’ pensions and veterans’ benefits, and many in Washington were surprised when they saw them in the initial budget deal presented in November.
Weeks later, we discovered the cuts were even more drastic than initially advertised. On Jan. 13, the Department of Defense confirmed to Congress that the cuts would also hit survivors’ benefits (paid to dependents of service personnel who died during active duty or retiree survivors). The initial budget package also included cuts to disabled veterans’ benefits, but thankfully those have since been restored.
As a taxpayer, I know that with more than $17 trillion in debt, our nation desperately needs a dose of fiscal responsibility. But it troubles me, as the widow of a U.S. Army sniper who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011, that one of the few places our leaders can find to rein in spending is by taking from our nation’s veterans and their families, including those left behind.
Chris and Jane Horton on their wedding day. Photo Credit: www.hortonbracelets.com
It would be one thing if slashing veterans benefits were part of a broader effort at spending reform, in which all Americans would be called upon to sacrifice to rein in deficits and debt. At least that would achieve an identifiable goal.
But that’s not what’s happening. The proposed savings amount to about $6 billion over the next decade. That’s a negligible sum in the context of our mountainous debt and ongoing deficits, which would only continue to grow under this new $1.1 trillion budget.
If Congress and President Obama truly want to restore fiscal sanity, they might apply these same types of spending cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which would create massive savings.
U.S. Army soldiers carry the flag-draped transfer case containing the remains of U.S. Army Pfc. Cody J. Patterson during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base on October 9, 2013 in Dover, Delaware. According to reports, Patterson, who was from Philomath, Oregon, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Georgia, was killed while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan. Since the U.S. government shutdown, a benefit called the 'death gratuity' that helps families cover travel and funeral costs for fallen soldiers has gone unpaid. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Our nation made a promise to those who have given their lives to our country, and that’s a promise we must honor. They trusted their country to take care of their families and their spouses. Spouses of fallen service members comprise a small portion of society and the military community, and we don't have the numbers to demand that injustice is not served against us. We need other people to join us and protect us and what our spouses have earned as well. After all, they paid for it with their very lives.
It’s not that military veterans and their families don’t understand the nature of sacrifice. In fact, they have a deeper understanding of sacrifice than most people. But they’re puzzled and betrayed by the fact that Washington is prepared for them to make the only sacrifices.
Congress should address spending reform on a much broader level, which includes reining in the growth of entitlement programs. If we’re going to ask veterans to accept reduced COLA raises, then we should apply the same principle to much more costly programs like Social Security.
Only then will we begin to make a difference in chipping away at budget deficits and debt. Until then, Congress should restore the cuts to military retirees and survivors’ benefits, who have already made enormous sacrifices for our nation and trust the country to take away the little that is provided to is after our loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice.
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