Just a week before we celebrate Veterans' Day, hundreds of thousands of military families have taken another body blow from our country's failing leadership in Washington D.C. Over 900,000 American veterans rely on food stamps to feed their families. Nonetheless, their benefits will be cut because our leaders cannot bring themselves to focus our collective effort on helping those who need, and deserve, help the most.
Most Americans do not know the role that poverty plays in the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. In the midst of the worst national unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, veterans are disproportionately likely to be unemployed. Veterans are more than twice as likely as the average American to be living on the streets.
Even while on active duty, enlisted soldiers with families often rely on food stamps to supplement the modest pay that our front-line personnel receive. The use of food stamps at military commissaries on base has more than tripled since 2008. Other government services to our veterans, including medical care, psychological counseling, supplemental funds to heat homes in winter and job retraining are likewise under threat.
Our leaders rarely fail to snap to attention in the presence of our armed service personnel when they are in front of the cameras. They can hardly wait to sing the praises of our men and women in uniform on cable TV shows and in speeches during election season. They likewise have felt very comfortable deploying our world-leading military personnel overseas on a continuous basis throughout this century.
But our uniformed men and women do not soldier only in the summer of parades, the glitter of dress uniforms, or the glow of missions accomplished. There is a long winter to fight in as well and it includes not only the suffering of over 50,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, not only the hundreds of thousands crippled psychologically by the torments of counter-insurgency and not only the years spent deployed away from families.
The long winter extends past honorable discharges, as our heroes return home to an economy that has struggled at best since 2007 for working people. The sacrifices made to do the work their country asked them to do are not reserved for the battlefield itself. They take the form of lost opportunities, outdated skills and education foregone to wear the uniform in an era where more and more has been asked of fewer and fewer. For those who are disabled, claims languish in the bureaucracy while moneyed interests receive red-carpet treatment from the government.
So here comes Veterans Day once again. Members of Congress earning close to $200,000.00 annually will be seeking votes on the stump, wearing their flag pins and sitting in prime grandstand seats for parades. But they can't come to an agreement on protecting our most dedicated, most self-sacrificing citizens from poverty. A privileged class of men and women in the executive branch and in Congress who engineered and voted for the wars and casually talk of more of the same won't take care of the men and women who actually had to do the fighting.
If you care about this issue, make it an issue. Ask any candidate for high state or federal office what they plan to do about ending poverty and homelessness among our veterans. Do not accept "commitments" without a plan. If you don't hear a plan, don't vote for them - they can't make you. We've heard enough about the debts the government has run up to pay banks and bailouts, or to let the NFL live tax free - our moral debt to our veterans should be paid first.
There's money to do it. A few weeks ago, in the debt ceiling deal, Congress had no trouble finding billions of dollars to re-direct to minority leader Mitch McConnell's pet projects. It also easily voted in hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to a multi-millionaire Congressional dynasty. No matter what you hear, the country isn't out of money to spend - it just that money isn't going anywhere near the people who need it and deserve it the most.