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Opinion

This Memorial Day, supporting veterans is a matter of national security

This Memorial Day, Americans should realize that supporting veterans with jobs and education isn't just about repaying our debt to them. The care of veterans and their families is also a national security imperative if the US is to maintain an effective all-volunteer force.

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Congress also gets it. Veterans programs have been protected from budget cuts, largely because they are recognized as a national security concern. The Budget Control Act of last August included Veterans Affairs in the “security” category, along with the department of Defense, the intelligence community, Homeland Security, and portions of the State Department budget.

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The White House this year requested extra funding for the disability evaluation system, as well as family support and veterans’ transition programs.

It should not be a surprise that our nation’s most senior leaders recognize that the welfare of our veterans represents a key component of our defense posture, because it’s not a new idea. In fact, George Washington, our nation’s first president, made this point very plainly when he said, “the willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

Many of us came of age under the watchful guidance of the “greatest generation,” a generation of veterans supported by citizens and communities that intimately understood the role that those veterans had played in our national defense. That same understanding doesn’t exist today.

A 2011 study from the Pew Research Center shows the public's great distance from 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq: Only a quarter of adults surveyed say they are following news of the wars closely; only 43 percent believe that Americans have had to make a lot of sacrifices since the 9/11 attacks; and half say the wars have made little difference in their lives. This is the crux of the challenge we face today.

Public discourse related to the support of our veterans and military families must be broadened to include how and why supporting our returning veterans with jobs, healthcare, education, and community is a duty and responsibility that goes far beyond repaying a debt. It’s about keeping us safe, and paying forward on an obligation to future generations of Americans.

Mike Haynie, a former US Air Force officer, is executive director and founder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.

Robert B. Murrett, a retired vice admiral in the US Navy, is former director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. He is deputy director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

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