In return — provide pay, health care for troops
(This editorial originally appeared in The Daily Reflector of Greenville.)
The United States reserved time Monday to honor the lives of the brave men and women who gave their lives in the service of this nation. It is wholly appropriate to set aside such a day, but their sacrifice should not be confined to a single day on the calendar.
America bears a responsibility to provide for all those who wear the uniform — those who die in defense of freedom as well as those who committed their lives to this country, did their duty and were fortunate to return safely to their loved ones. For them, America must deliver on its promises — of competitive pay, generous benefits and excellent health care.
The recent debate over funding for the present phase of the war in Iraq highlights the growing anger and contempt felt toward the strategic management of the occupation and democratic transition. America continues to see its soldiers fall in Iraq without clear indication of progress, and many now believe that U.S. troops should be removed from the country expeditiously.
For the men and women on the ground, the war debate carries a different feel. As elected officials try to score political points, combat troops simply attempt to manage the difficulties of serving in a chaotic and dangerous environment, always hoping for a safe return to their loved ones at home.
While this is the best equipped, funded and trained military in the world, it is one made of husbands and fathers, mothers and sisters, brothers and wives — men and women with concerns about bills, retirement and medical care. And it is important that those who hold the purse strings in Washington are ever aware of that fact, and respond accordingly.
That is arguably made more pressing in the present war environment. America has endured the loss of 3,435 troops during the four-year war in Iraq, but it also has suffered 25,378 wounded, many of whom will require long-term care. The negligent upkeep of Walter Reed Medical Center and other Veterans Administration hospitals must be addressed at once.
Similarly, the men and women who serve do so as volunteers, but the United States should work to close the 3.9 percent average gap between civilian and military pay. The 2008 military appropriations bill pushed by Congressional Democrats and approved by the U.S. House would close that gap to 1.4 percent by 2012, since it features a 3.5-percent raise. The White House has backed a 3-percent hike and calls the larger increase unnecessary, a departure from the administration’s encouragement for Americans to support the troops.
The simple truth here is that the men and women deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or other hot spots around the globe — and every person who wears the uniform — deserves more than words of gratitude for risking their lives in defense of this country. They deserve the best the United States can give in regard to compensation and care.
America has not exhausted all effort for its troops, and Washington should not rest until it has.