When I left active duty four years ago, I had a hard time accessing my benefits as a veteran. That difficulty was twofold:
- The bureaucratic nightmare that is documenting and requesting a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs
- The internal guilt I felt that I was not worthy of veterans benefits despite 10 years of service that included multiple combat deployments
I am not alone, either. More than two-thirds of America’s veterans do not access the full breadth of the benefits they have earned by their service in uniform.
Sadly, today’s Washington Post Editorial Board opinion piece will make it less likely that more of these veterans will come home and access the care they have earned.
The Post’s argument goes something like this:
- The budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs has steeply risen since 9/11
- Disability benefits are roughly half of the VA’s budget
- “Disabled veterans return to the workforce at nearly the same rate as veterans without disabilities.”
- Therefore, if you want to work as a disabled veteran, you should forfeit your disability benefits.
The Post Editorial Board claims that “the moral responsibility Americans have to those who fought for the country is of diminished value if it does not align with the fiscal responsibility Americans have to keep their financial house safe and sound.”
But this is categorically false. And it’s a dangerously transactional view of morality.
Morals do not depend on “fiscal responsibility.” Morals depend on doing what is right.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: fiscal responsibility is a noble virtue. Any government spending should be stewarded by responsible government officials, held accountable by the American people.
But let’s be clear: balancing the budget on the backs of America’s veterans is the height of immorality. The Post gets their logic exactly backwards: the time to save money on veterans benefits is not after the fact, when some technocrat thinks the budget totals are getting too high for their preference. The time to save money on veterans benefits was before committing American troops to large-scale combat operations overseas.
Let this be a lesson to the American people: wars cost money, and that money isn’t all paid up-front. There is a long tail to the American war machine; love the machine or hate the machine, veterans benefits are not to blame for your fiscal unease.
In the immediate term, I am worried that the Post’s decision to publish this piece will have a chilling effect on veterans seeking needed care. More than half of all veterans already pay out of pocket for care that should be free to them; more still do not even think to get needed care for themselves out of an outplaced notion that somehow they did not “earn it” properly or that there isn’t enough money to go around for everyone.
I spend so much time telling veterans that these fears are misplaced; that all veterans are deserving of their full benefits and that their country supports this unequivocally.
Unfortunately, the fear that veterans feel in accessing care and benefits was given a face and a name in the Washington Post Editorial Board. It is shameful, to say the least, but I am thankful for those who will continue to pick up the pieces and ignore this unnecessary addition to the public discourse.