Never shortchange vets' needs

5/26/2012

As a member of the Army Reserves during the first Gulf War, I wasn't alone in wondering and worrying about whether our combat engineer battalion would be called up.

As a member of the Army Reserves during the first Gulf War, I wasn't alone in wondering and worrying about whether our combat engineer battalion would be called up.

We dodged that bullet, so to speak.

Instead, we served as replacement troops for a unit stationed in Central America that did go to war. My unit spent two weeks building schoolhouses in Panama, while many of our fellow reservists in other units ended up in harm's way.

Back then, Army Reserve and National Guard troops started taking on more responsibilities of war — involvement that soared during recent battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

National Guard and Army Reserve forces reportedly made up more than 40 percent of front-line forces in Iraq, and more than 55 percent in Afghanistan — the highest of any U.S. war.

Heading off to war is difficult enough for military personnel who signed on for active duty, and train diligently on a full-time basis.

Reservists — also known as weekend warriors — generally spend two days a month and two weeks each summer on training. They leave their civilian lives behind when duty calls somewhere else in the world.

And when duty does call, they perform admirably.

But in return for their service and dedication, many end up struggling with lofty challenges after war. They may encounter strained family relationships, or a tough time finding a new job.

Worse yet, reservists experience higher rates of post-traumatic stress than their active duty peers (multiple deployments add to the pain), and encounter more roadblocks to military services that provide support for regular troops.

Sadly, far too many veterans who need care — from both the reserve and active duty ranks — get stuck on waiting lists. It's no wonder incidents of alcohol abuse, domestic violence and suicide involving veterans have spiked in recent years.

Such disturbing trends should be reason enough for policymakers to be even more committed to funding increases in services and programs our veterans desperately need.

Unfortunately, we now live in a state and nation where radical conservative Republicans would rather toy with funding for social services than make a strong commitment to aid those who went to war on their behalf.

Programs to help veterans and their families require more funding, not the same or less. Yet now in Kansas, we've been saddled with a massive tax-cut plan championed by GOP conservatives that threatens to create serious budget shortfalls and shortchange support for mental health care and other social services that aid veterans.

It's already heartbreaking enough to see the tragic fallout endured by a growing number of veterans dealing with emotional and physical wounds suffered at war.

Considering the costly toll of war, making sure veterans receive the care they need in a timely way should have been a much higher priority than tax cuts that benefit the wealthy in our state.

By helping our vets in need, we also pay tribute to the many military men and women lost at war or in service elsewhere. They made the ultimate sacrifice, something we should reflect on this Memorial Day.

Keep in mind our military is second to none. Veterans and their families who have given so much deserve attention that's also unparalleled.

On Memorial Day — and every day, for that matter — they should be able to count on us to do all we can to help them move forward.

Email Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.

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