Legion says defense funds must be protected

The following is part of an occasional series of guest columns highlighting the work and concerns of veterans groups. Fang Wong, a 26-year Army veteran who served in Vietnam, is the national commander of the American Legion.

The supercommittee wasn’t so super after all. It failed in its critical mission to cut the federal budget by $1.2 trillion. So we are left with the question, “Now what?”

Sequestration – that loathsome process of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts – will kick in on New Year’s Day 2013. At that point, the Department of Defense will lose nearly $1 trillion in spending power over the next decade. That is one huge chunk of money, combining $450 billion in cuts already being made by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with another $500 billion mandated by sequestration specifically for the Defense Department.

The American Legion is concerned – very concerned – that such an extreme reduction in funding will create unnecessary risk for our troops overseas, shortchange the quality of their weapons and equipment, and give rise to a “hollow force” that Panetta warned Congress about at a recent hearing on DoD budget cuts.

Our men and women serving America in uniform must be protected from the onslaught of the Sequestration Monster. It isn’t their fault the 12 supercommittee members, six Democrats and six Republicans, failed to realize that compromise is better than deadlock. Servicemembers, especially those on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, shouldn’t have to worry about their pay and benefits.

We have heard from Deputy Comptroller Mike McCord that DOD’s plan for its initial $450 billion in cuts focuses on troop levels, compensation and military benefits. With the additional $500 billion reduction looming, we can expect more of the same. Why put pay and benefits on the chopping block first?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is proposing a deal in Congress that would scale back on DOD’s mandatory budget cuts. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California has written to President Obama, urging him to take military pay off the chopping block. Under provisions of the Budget Control Act, the president can do just that.

The American Legion supports all reasonable efforts to keep our defense budget from being automatically, mindlessly gutted. The well-being of our troops should be the very last thing to suffer from draconian austerity measures. We also urge the president to protect the paychecks of our troops – but go even further and say “no” to any proposed cuts to benefits for veterans and military retirees.

Last August, at The American Legion’s national convention in Minneapolis, President Obama promised that he would not balance the budget “on the backs of veterans.” We are holding him to that promise, and ask that he work with Congress and DOD to make sure the men and women responsible for our national security don’t pay the price for federal deficits.

We are talking about real people, real warriors here. They are the ones who will take on more personal risk if the military is reduced to unacceptably low levels ill-prepared for war. Supercommittee may have failed, but we must not fail our servicemembers. They are the one percent who protect us all, and we owe them the kind of debt you can’t include in a budget.

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