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Guest column

Honor veterans’ sacrifice by improving economy

In October 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 11 as Veterans Day in honor of all those who had served the nation in uniform. “On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” Eisenhower wrote in declaring the observance.

As a distinguished Army man, Eisenhower knew sacrifices firsthand, and he understood how important it is to reflect on those sacrifices regularly. He also understood that the “heritage of freedom” is preserved not only through military might but, perhaps most importantly, through economic strength. That’s why Eisenhower emphasized that government must live within its means through balanced budgets.

In today’s Washington, we could use a little bit of that common-sense wisdom about the need for spending restraint.

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Veterans and military personnel recognize that a strong U.S. economy is a necessary precondition for the continued strength of the United States on the world stage. They recognize that we need a strong economy to meet our responsibility to protect the American people from the threats of a 21st-century world. Restoring our economy to health and our government to a fiscally sustainable path are the chief ways we can truly honor the service of our veterans.

I often quote the warning from Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argued that the top threat to our nation’s security is the national debt. Mullen understood that our nation’s security is inextricably linked to our economic well-being.

That’s an argument that veterans understand instinctively. Polling by Concerned Veterans for America consistently has shown that a strong majority of veterans (72 percent) rank the economy and the national debt as the top threats to our nation’s security.

Of course, it’s not just the broad question of national security that veterans care about; they are also concerned about the prospects for themselves and their families. But with the struggling economy of recent years, those prospects have dimmed.

Consider the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face a 10 percent jobless rate, more than two points higher than the general population. It’s worse yet for the youngest cohort of this population: Veterans aged 18-24 face a staggering 24.8 percent unemployment rate.

Most military veterans return home with solid skills, a strong work ethic and a sure sense of discipline. Why are these men and women finding it difficult to reintegrate into the workforce? Blame it on the economy, which, thanks to Washington’s mismanagement, is still reeling despite the fact that the recession officially ended in 2009.

As a combat veteran, I appreciate the efforts our nation makes to honor our service through observations such as Veterans Day. Others who have served in uniform would tell you the same.

But I also know that we must support our veterans not only with words, but through our actions. And our actions of recent years — piling up $16 trillion in debt, running annual deficits of more than $1 trillion — only serve to undermine our nation’s long-term strength and freedoms.

This Veterans Day, let’s pledge to honor those who have served by restoring our economy to health through sensible spending restraint and a commitment to pro-growth policies. That’s the best way to preserve our heritage of freedom for years to come.

Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. He is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

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