When U.S. military veterans were asked what they consider to be the most challenging issues facing our country, the response was overwhelming: 72 percent cited the economy and the national debt as their top concerns for 2012, in a poll conducted by Concerned Veterans for America.
We dug deeper to find out where veterans think the U.S. economy is headed in the long term. Fifty-four percent believe that, over the course of the next 20 years, the economy will either be weaker (34 percent) or remain stagnant (20 percent).
That’s not a stirringly optimistic assessment about the nation’s future prospects as a global economic power. And much of it can be attributed to the challenge posed by our nation’s towering debt – now at $16 trillion and growing.
AS AN ARMY veteran myself, I know most vets and uniformed military personnel look at our growing debt in disbelief, because they recognize what it portends. Veterans understand instinctively that a weak economy and a large debt are dangerous because they undermine our ability to provide for our nation’s security.
In 2010, Adm. Mike Mullen offered this clear warning: “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” Mullen’s stature as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made that statement all the more compelling – and alarming.
More than two years later, Mullen’s statement looks less like a warning, but more like a prophecy. And like many prophecies, it’s going unheeded, as leaders in Washington kick the can down the road on dealing with runaway spending.
This crisis will grow more acute in January, when the United States will face a true economic reckoning known as “sequestration” – Washington-speak for “automatic budget cuts.” Sequestration will set off nearly $500 billion in indiscriminate cuts to defense spending throughout the next 10 years.
AND YET, THIS year’s election process did little to clarify what our policymakers plan to do about the debt. It’s as if our leaders don’t want to face the grinding reality of what that $16 trillion number represents: a future weighed down by higher taxes and slower growth.
We can do better than this.
That’s why Concerned Veterans for America – an organization representing veterans and military families – embarked on a 10-day bus tour from New York to Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Ohio. Both military and nonmilitary supporters joined us at state houses, American Legions and public parks along the East Coast, calling on policymakers to get back to work, stop compromising our nation’s security and get spending under control.
The tour is over and the election has passed, but our call still stands. Help us send a clear message that our veterans – and all Americans – expect action and deserve better.
(The writer 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 and Iraq, and at Guantanamo Bay.)