Our Fiduciary Responsibility to Our Soldiers and Veterans

Commentary by Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

On Monday, May 30, we will remember and pay honor to those Americans who fight in distant lands to protect democracy and our cherished way of life. Indeed, to those who give much for this nation, much is owed to them by this nation.

To its credit, Congress has overruled the Pentagon and given our soldiers larger pay raises and more generous benefits than requested by either President Bush's or President Obama's Administrations.

The Pentagon, never known before to complain about the cost of anything military, has warned that troop pay raises are too generous. Since 2002, military wages have risen 42%, compared to about 32% for the private sector. Housing and subsistence benefits have risen even more. However, it should be emphasized that in the late 1990s, service men and women earned 13% less than workers in the private sector with similar experience and education. The increases in pay and benefits seem overly large because they have been traditionally far too low.

We ask our young men and women to go to war, to risk death and disability and a life changed forever in ways they cannot fathom or fix. What is the price of that? As I see it, our veterans have critical needs and without question, they must be met. What can we say about ourselves as a nation if we do not meet the needs of those who serve.

Already, 500,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have filed for disability. That's about one in every three who served. The Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars have ended, but the needs of those who fought in those wars are far from ended. According to the Chicago Tribune, 84% of the increase in VA disability claims over the past seven years came from veterans of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars. The largest single disability category for Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological disabilities. These specific disabilities can mean a life changed forever…lives of wives, children and parents changed forever. Whatever the price, we, as a nation, must pay it. We owe fighting men and women and our veterans the best care possible for however long they need it.

Veterans care legislation working its way through Congress opens up the VA's Vet Centers, community-based counseling centers, to active duty troops as well as those who have been discharged. The bill also authorizes the Vet Centers to counsel veterans discharged under "less than honorable" conditions because of mental health issues on how to get their discharges reviewed and upgraded, so they can qualify for the full range of VA services.

For those who want Memorial Day to be a solemn commemoration of heroic deeds and sacrifices, talk of money may seem discordant. I believe that Memorial Day should be not only a solemn commemoration of heroic deeds and sacrifices, but also a reminder of this nation's solemn responsibility to meet the needs of those who serve and those who return home.

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