When Congress cuts benefits, remember the soldier on the wall

The other day a fellow veteran and I were having a conversation about Congress and the budget battle and how it is affecting us retired veterans.

Now we were not talking politics but, how the American public is held captive by this budget crisis. It always seems that the fix is to cut education, senior-citizen benefits and the military.

When you get up to go to work in the morning, you try and decide what you will wear. In the military you have little choice what you wear. Slide on your battle dress uniform, socks, boots, armored vest, load-bearing equipment, ammo, weapon and a Kevlar helmet – whatever may come of it or where you may end up. Now, to wear the uniform of a serviceman may not be the same for all the forces, but the risk is all the same.

Some of you may think that service is each person’s own choice. It is a choice! To enlist in any of the services is by far a challenge that very few civilian jobs could ever offer. Yes, there are some jobs out there that have their dangers, but in most cases no one is shooting bullets at you, except maybe those who chose to serve as peace officers. No one is asking you to leave home to confront enemies in a foreign country.

I am not alone when I say; I have heard many times that veterans get too much. Why do they get free education, free medical care – it was their choice. Have you ever heard the saying, “Paying it forward?” The veteran gets nothing free. It has been earned many times over just in sacrifice. I am not taking away the misfortunes of our education system or our senior citizens, but the American servicemen and women sacrifice much more than most civilians know. What price do you put on getting sent away from home? I am not talking about over night or even a week, how about for a year. Missing your child’s first step, their first word, their first birthday, their first anything. How about missing two of your children’s first-anything. What would it be like to pack up and move every three or four years across the United States or to foreign country? All of this and more just to protect the freedoms everyone enjoys.

In 20 years, most civilians are able to buy a home settle down in a community – maybe the town they grew up in – watch their children grow and see them off to college, start their own families, have grandchildren. Before long, house may almost be paid off, and it’s time to enjoy middle age. For the retiring veteran, the time to settle down is just starting after 20 years or maybe 22 years. You are middle-aged and you are just starting out. Many challenges to overcome, where to live, what home to buy, new community and new friends.

Up until December 1972 the draft did not give young men the choice when it came to serving our country. Many WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans returned home battered and beaten physically and mentally and have had to deal with those burdens everyday. Women were able to enlist in the service during the draft years, and they too are still fighting the Veterans Administration for those so called free benefits. We can not help that the laws written and passed by Congress years ago would be such a struggle for the veterans to this day. Each day a veteran is laid to rest having had to fight for those so-called free benefits because the battered, beaten and mental problems did not meet the criteria of the law and no benefits were procured.

One of my favorite movie lines is “They stand on a wall and say no one is going to hurt you tonight” Some where there is a service man or woman standing on a wall, standing guard, protecting what we all should believe in – freedom. Your freedom and mine depend on that man or woman standing guard. So the next time you think to say, or hear someone say, the veteran gets too much, just remember there is someone standing on that wall. When Congress is in debate over the budget and where to cut the money, pick up the phone or write your congressman or senator and tell them not for the sake of our children, not for the sake of our seniors and most of all not for the sake of our servicemen and women or our veterans. It is a choice we should all be willing to live with.

Robert Valencia is a retired Army Sergeant First Class. Member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion. He can be reached at 970-560-1891. Listen to Veterans Forum the last Friday of the month at 8:30 a.m. on KSJD Radio FM 90.5/91.5