In election contests across the nation, the war in Iraq is front and center, seemingly undermining the argument that all politics are local. Despite the reality that there is little one politician can do to change the status quo, the electorate is now overcome with strategies, timetables and the futility of the Bush administration’s elimination of the “stay the course” phrase.
The fact remains that our nation’s losses and the costs of the war mount both in dollars and intangible ways. Like it or not, our leaders sent American troops to Iraq, and little good is served by constantly rehashing the war’s rationale. Mistakes have been made and the bureaucracy of government is inherently inefficient.
A lack of strategic planning and long-term vision, coupled with an ignorance of ethnic differences has caused American troops to be caught in the bloody crossfire. Forget the aggressive politics over the situation in Iraq and think about what so many college-age Americans face on the front lines.
They are not afforded the opportunity to complain about exams, papers or a late bus. Instead, they are fighting for their lives against an enemy that is increasingly difficult to identify. Considering the alternatives of being shot or being injured or killed by a roadside bomb makes inconveniences in your spring schedule seem trifling by comparison.
The inability to experience firsthand this type of sacrifice is not limited to students, although speaking as a “non-traditional student” with 11 years in the United States Marine Corps, I don’t think it would be a bad thing for some students to experience. Apparently the extent of sacrifice for too many Americans seems to be the $3 bumper sticker with the muddled message “Support Our Troops.”
In a New York Times column entitled “Sacrifice of the Few,” Bob Hebert indicated that, “According to the support group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, two-thirds of the 92,000 Army troops deployed since the beginning of this year are on at least their second deployment.” Without a draft or a presidential call to service, these same troops are asked to redeploy to the same conflict, and unfortunately some return to America permanently scarred, if they return at all.
The military deaths are alarming enough, but too little attention has been paid to the disabled veterans who somehow must be re-integrated into society.
According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, one in five returning service members who exits the military is deemed disabled from the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some 104,000 have been given disability compensation. But these numbers understate the true toll of disabilities which will be diagnosed in the future, as well as the growing numbers that our continued military involvement will certainly bring.
Veterans from this conflict will face the same challenges as did many from prior wars. Beyond acquiring suitable medical care, veterans must find a suitable job, prevent themselves from being chronically homeless – as many veterans are – and try to navigate the path to higher education. Volunteer organizations seek to place veterans in stable homes and help with the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but more needs to be done.
In terms of addressing the needs of veterans for higher education, the GI Bill has provided the opportunity for many, including myself, to obtain a college degree that may not have been otherwise possible. This piece of New Deal-era legislation has paid off not only for veterans, but for the American economy. In a 1988 congressional study it was determined that, “for every dollar paid out under the original GI Bill, there was a $7 return to the economy.” But with the increasing cost of higher education, additional funding for this program is needed.
The commitment to supporting veterans should rest not only with Washington, but with every American. The holidays are an especially difficult time to be deployed and away from home. Many students cannot imagine being away from their family on Christmas morning, let alone half a world away from family and friends.
Numerous organizations provide care packages, phone cards and a simple Christmas carol this time of year – not only to active duty service members but those at VA nursing homes and medical centers as well. Get involved. If you don’t have a few extra dollars to donate, then donate some time this holiday. Veterans have great stories to tell, and students can learn quite a bit from them.
It doesn’t matter if you support the war in Iraq or are a fierce opponent – by supporting our troops and veterans, you show that their sacrifice matters. I encourage everyone to think about the troops and veterans this holiday and, if possible, volunteer some time or donate some money to one of the many worthy veterans’ organizations. For too many service members and veterans, not enough is done.
Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.