Sustaining Our Social Contract with the Military
Posted by Maura McCarthy on November 20
Over the past four years a number of critical veteran initiatives have been enacted, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and the executive orders protecting veterans from predatory for-profit colleges and improving access to mental health care. However, as CNAS fellow Phillip Carter made clear in the latest report, Upholding the Promise: Supporting Veterans and Military Personnel in the Next Four Years, the second Obama administration still has their work cut out for them, and efforts above and beyond those of the past four years are needed. We may have the momentum, but we can’t lose it.
The report identifies three areas that the second Obama administration must prioritize in order to uphold its promise to the military community, and in lieu of offering specific solutions provides a framework through which the Administration can tackle these challenges. From the urgent issues of military suicide, combat stress, veteran homelessness, and veteran unemployment to necessary operational improvements in the government’s ability to serve the military community, specifically reducing the VA backlog, improving DoD and VA access to service and benefits, and enhancing federal agencies’ abilities to coordinate, the report assesses the issues facing the military community. Additionally, the report highlights the strategic challenges of the environment in which the Administration must execute, characterized by an increasing civil-military divide, the wars’ fading from public attention, and a changing veteran population.
In terms of how the Administration examines these issues, the report advises the Administration to adopt an inclusive and strategic policymaking approach that requires broadly defining the community and building a policy support network. Broadly defining the military community to include active duty, veteran, reserve and Guard components, and military families will facilitate a coordinated approach to issues like military suicide or unemployment. It will also allow the Administration to leverage expertise and resources from the whole of government as well as through private partnerships. The community of veterans’ organizations, state and local agencies, civilian businesses, and government agencies that deploy personnel alongside the military should also be engaged. Additionally, the next Administration should develop a more robust policymaking and research community for the VA, similar to DoD’s advisory network including the Defense Policy Board and their federally-funded research centers like RAND and the Institute for Defense Analyses.
As more troops return home and we continue to draw down in Afghanistan, the Administration will face hard decisions about funding veteran and military programs—regardless of whether or not the nation falls off the fiscal cliff as a result of sequestration. Today, the nation spends more on veterans than ever before, and we are on track to spend more on military benefits, such as retirement, medical care, and the GI Bill, than on personnel costs for active duty by 2014. Despite popular support for these programs, as the nation enters an age of greater fiscal austerity there is real bipartisan concern about our ability to fulfill the national social contract with the military community. The nation’s 21.5 million veterans have fulfilled their part of the bargain, now it’s time for leadership to figure out how to fulfill theirs.
Maura McCarthy is IAVA's Research Director and works out of our Washington, DC office. Follow her on Twitter @MoMcCarthy.
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