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Andrew Vernon is a former career employee at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He is president of Andrew Vernon & Associates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting transitioning service members and Veterans.
On Aug. 30, the U.S. withdrew from a 20-year conflict in Afghanistan. We endured mortalities and extreme injuries throughout the war as presidents, members of Congress and other executives in government visited families and troops in hospitals, communities and at their homes. It was no surprise that injuries and lost lives would have short- and long-term effects on loved ones and communities. We witnessed the pictures on television, read stories in the news and recognized the resiliency of our service members in the face of adversity.
This was the longest and most expensive war in American history. Members of our military made anywhere from one to five deployments. They were away from their families, unable to see babies born, witness weddings, attend funerals of loved ones and more.
This all occurred while most of us were living normal lives in a protected nation. Those at home continued work, attended school, visited parks and went on vacations without needing to worry about rocket-propelled grenades zooming overhead. Our service members dedicated and sacrificed their years, health, and their lives and now is the time we return the favor and provide them with what they deserve — compensation in the form of lifelong benefits.
John Feal and John Stewart of “The Daily Show” have strongly advocated to push a bill through Congress that would compensate our military service members and veterans for their injuries and sacrifice. As Stewart commented recently, “The parallels are incredible. I’d say the only difference between what happened with the 9/11 community and what’s happening with the veteran community is the 9/11 community was injured by toxic exposure from an enemy attack. The veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been injured by the United States. We did this to ourselves. The smoke, the toxins, those pits were dug by contractors hired by the DoD. They knew about it. Their own reporting, internal reporting, shows the air quality, shows the variety of toxins they were exposed to.”
Washington has been divided on considering the House toxic exposure bill titled Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act Of 2021 and the Senate version titled the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021. The main concern is the cost incurred because of the number of service members and veterans pursuing the proposed disability benefits.
Congress had few reservations when passing spending bills to sustain the 20-year war. However now that the war is over, veteran health has become politicized. Veteran health care and expanding benefits to those who suffered and sacrificed in the name of maintaining American interests abroad should not be issues that create divisions across the aisle. Washington easily funded the war but now that the final tab in the cost of reconciling service member injury, loss and hardship is due, it wants to skip the bill.
Members of Congress were out of harm’s way during the wars, many watching their bank accounts soar as they rubbed elbows with defense contractors and continued with the status quo of their fruitless work in Washington. To the ones who capitalized on the backs of our fallen and injured, it’s time to return this money to a National Veteran Disability Fund. This fund can be a collective effort between government and the public at large to provide benefits to our service members and veterans as they get their lives back. Building presidential libraries and maintaining other royalties can’t replace human lives. These profits should be donated to a National Veteran Disability Fund.
If the government cannot agree on compensating our war heroes due to cost, a combination of wealthy citizens and government must do so. While billionaires like Jeff Bezos have built their wealth to fund vanity projects while contributing little in federal taxes, they should also consider establishing or contributing to a National Veteran Disability Fund. They too owe it to the country that allowed them the opportunity to amass great wealth and believe in innovation.
Leaders know how important productive teams are in any effort. Our military was one productive team and achieved greatness. The time is now to compensate for their injuries to help them get their lives back.