30 Issues: Troops and Veterans

Thursday, October 04, 2012

30 Issues in 30 Days is our election year series on the important issues facing the country this election year. Today: What's wrong — and right with the current government treatment of active and returned military personnel. Visit the 30 Issue home page for all the conversations.

Open Prep: Questions, Articles, and Links to Get You Started

Key Questions

  • Is the all-volunteer military creating two Americas?
  • Is there an "economic draft" for those who could not pay for college without enlisting?
  • What can Washington do to address the high rate of homelessness among veterans?
  • What is the demographic breakdown of enlistees? 

What are your key questions on this topic? Post them below and get the conversation going!




Got a Follow Up?

Each Friday we'll be following up on one of that week's issues. Got a particular follow-up question from this conversation? Comment below or tweet us. Tweet to @brianlehrer

Comments [40]

Kathy LPV from Long Branch, NJ

Yesterday I called & spoke to Brian & Mr Kohn about what we Individually can do to "support our troops" - & ways we can "sacrifice" - BUT the Info I gave on the air was WRONG! (mea culpa!)

So - here is the correct info for any who want to "Sacrifice" for those protecting us ...

A.R.M.S - American Recreational Military Services (a 401 (c) (3) Public charity ... at

So far, A.R.M.S is out of NJ & NY - hopefully it will grow & help our troops & their families!

Oct. 05 2012 11:44 AM
L from Westchester

You and your guest spoke on this topic as if war and those who serve at its mercy is something that is not negotiable and as if all of America's wars are just. Many people do not agree. Many Americans believe that America is in Afghanistan (and was in Iraq), for example, to bring Democracy and freedom to those countries. That is not a fact, just a ploy that the U.S. government uses to talk its people into supporting wars that are usually about the U.S. securing OUR interests (usually in the form of oil, pipelines and agreements with foreign governments). If one examines the countries with which we engage in these wars, versus those countries whose business we stay out of, it will become clear that we are not there to bring Democracy to others. With this information in mind, the conversation would not be about how to make U.S. military service more equal, but perhaps how to end war and our part in it.

Oct. 04 2012 03:11 PM

There was an absurd irony listening to the woes of a military chaplain's wife in this discussion, not to mention a Reverend calling for National Service. Whilst there are an awful lot of things one can argue over in the teachings of Jesus, there is one thing that is wholly and totally unambiguous: Jesus was a pacifist. I can see how invoking the name of Yaweh, Allah, Shiva, Odin or Dorothy, is entirely appropriate to those belief systems. But invoking the name of that poor man to help you win your battles, a man who refused to have a single sword lifted in his defence as he was dragged to his death by a foreign empire. The word irony doesn't quite seem to do it justice, so you can substitute what term you wish, but remember: judge not that ye be not judged.

Oct. 04 2012 01:16 PM
Soldier's Father

To Jack: OK, let's take it from your perspective The Constitution requires that the government live up to the contracts it enters into -- doesn't that include the contractual obligations it has to soldiers and veterans? (In case you are unaware, they are contractual, as the government requires every soldier, enlisted and officer to sign a written contract listing each party's obligations.) Don't your libertarian principles require that these contractual obligations be met?

Enjoy your lunch.

Oct. 04 2012 12:12 PM

It's a surreal discussion. Promoting training all Americans in the art of warfare as a means of social cohesion and a united national vision. I seem to remember the Germans tried that in the 30s - how did that turn out again?

Today I think it's obvious that people are informed enough to realise these wars are solely about the interests of the politicians and their financiers. I don't think anyone needs to worry about conscription raising it's head again. One of the main reasons all the social programs were created post-WW2 in Europe was that they had a mass population of men returning home, trained in weaponry and tactics and experienced in killing on a large scale. They don't want to be put in that position again. That's accountability.

Why should mandatory national service be based on military training anyway? Why not send them into healthcare and infrastructure programs? Oh yeah, they're not services, they're profitable industries, not like the military at all.

Oct. 04 2012 12:06 PM

To Papa del Soldado - oh please. He's upholding the constitution? I can "rant" because of what he's doing in some other country? Don't buy it one bit. Look, your kid is a tool - that's okay, we're all tools of SOMETHING.

Instead of all the "oaths" "defending" the constitution, why not try reading it? Might be helpful.

Ok - my libertarianism tells me it is lunch time! Bye all!

Oct. 04 2012 11:56 AM
Mike from Inwood

Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn states: “I guess it's easy enough to say we want a draft when we have no war, but once we are fighting, none of us wants a loved one to die or be injured; so it's not that easy a question to answer.”

That’s the point, if the decision makers have their family on he line, they won’t be so quick to go to war.

Oct. 04 2012 11:44 AM
FIshmael from NYC

I find this emphasis on making militarization of society normal disturbing. Why should someone enrolling in the military get a free education, whereas someone who opposes wasteful and wrong wars not? What about young people who want to give something concrete to domestic society - nurses, social workers, infrastructure construction?

There seems to be an unexamined assumption here that military service is somehow inherently honorable - but I think many could argue that the benefits to society are, in fact, few - or that in fact these wasteful wars, and the overall militarization of society, is in fact damaging to the U.S.

The reason a small group of Americans bears the burden of these wars is because they are the ones who either are desperate enough to join, or, believe the rhetoric driving the "forever war". If you required society at large to put "skin in the game", these wars would be over within a week.

That said, I think the idea of a national service corps, focused on domestic needs, is laudable.

Oct. 04 2012 11:43 AM
CK from Westchester

Would be great to have this wonderful "everyone does something" campaign for a year of service. I wouldn't send my daughters to the military until the Pentagon can get the male soldier stop raping women in their own companies. Disgraceful.

Oct. 04 2012 11:42 AM

Bring on the national service commitment!

Pre- or post- college at the inductees option. Universal basic training with weapons handling, unit tactics and other basics. Only SOME of these people will go on to the military but all should perform some form of national service - park ranger, aux. cops, teachers or firemen; nursing and home health aides -- before they can qualify for government assistance for school, home mortgage assistance, etc. A threshhold of service before you get government programs.

At the very least, workers will get more respect - and hopefully higher wages - because their supervisors and bosses know that they have been trained in how to kill. It may sounds absurd, I know, but my basic belief is that the volunteer army is one of the reasons why middle class wages have been falling since 1968. No respect for their labor.

Oct. 04 2012 11:41 AM
Mike from Inwood

Richard Kohn talks out both sides of his mouth. "It's all service, no matter how dangerous the job" Then why when they're asking for pay and benefits for ALL the military do they trot out the scarred veterans in wheelchairs. He is also wrong about the reasons for the protest against Vietnam with his revisionist history. What community college shelters this waste of the taxpayers money?

Oct. 04 2012 11:40 AM
CK from Westchester

Richard: My mistake. How about Italy Germany and Spain? Do we need alot of coverage there?

Oct. 04 2012 11:40 AM
RJ from prospect hts

I'm baffled at the idea that Americans have not sacrificed during these war times. The damage to the budget for the unfunded--off-the-books--wars has run up the much ballyhooed debt, which forces reductions to states for services and both federal and state programs to cut public services. We keep hearing Democrats complain about (and Republicans run away from) the unfunded Bush wars, but the funds in fact *did* come from somewhere: public service programs. "We have to pay off the debt by cutting services," is the refrain, right?

I think *everyone,*particularly the poor and working class, as well as more recently the middle class, has sacrificed for these wars.

Oct. 04 2012 11:38 AM
Soldier's Father from Pelham, NY

Jack: Thanks for your cogent, rational response. Must be nice to be so sure about everything from your safe bed in New York.
Since you asked, my son took an oath to protect the Constitution, which includes your right to rant at people you know nothing about. The only fascist in the conversation appears to be the one in your mirror.

Oct. 04 2012 11:38 AM
CK from Westchester

Maxwell: that's pretty biased. By that same definition, Mr.Obama didn't run out and join the military. Too busy with Harvard and his community organizer work. And setting in the right Rev. Wright's church to serve. Careful what you're flinging out there.

Oct. 04 2012 11:35 AM
Jo from Jersey from NJ

Since the 2nd Iraq war I have believed that the draft should be brought back for the same reasons that Jesse Jackson had stated. I was SICK of hearing from the upper middle class hawks pulling to go into Iraq without "skin in the game. "

Oct. 04 2012 11:33 AM
Maxwell Q. Janes from MAnhattan

Mitt Romney is a perfect example of the class divide vis a vis the military. While the lower classes fight for his right not to pay taxes his sons did not see fit to defend the "Great Country that is America" which Mitt wants to remake. Of course they did have the time and comitment to spend a year shilling for their religion. Is it any wonder Mitt didn't reference the military ion his acceptance spech? It's a foreign concept to him.

Oct. 04 2012 11:32 AM
CK from Westchester

Agree with the points that when you sign up, you know the deal. You should know the pay and the benefits as you would any job you agree to take. I don't disagree that it's hard to raise a family on the income, but not impossible. And I'd suggest that some of the support you get from military "employment" is better than you'd get in private sector. The company I work for has no family "ombudsman" and after I leave, there's no healtcare benefit like Vets have for life. Tough job, yes. Some opportunities that result: ditto.

Oct. 04 2012 11:31 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I am of two minds about this.

As the daughter of a 100% disabled WWII veteran, I am well aware of what happens in war, and I was brought up by my veteran father and a pacifist mother who took us to anti-war rallies.

On the other hand, the military has certain advantages. It can provide education in fields some service members never experienced or contemplated. It provides some income, though very little. It provides valuable job experience. It used to provide an opportunity for youngsters who needed it to mature some before going to college. (In Israel, everyone serves BEFORE college and are more mature once they go on to school.)

I guess it's easy enough to say we want a draft when we have no war, but once we are fighting, none of us wants a loved one to die or be injured; so it's not that easy a question to answer.

Oct. 04 2012 11:31 AM

CK: what do you mean about France? There have been no American soldiers stationed in France since DeGaulle kicked them out in the '60s.

Oct. 04 2012 11:31 AM

I think a year of service should be compulsory for every American. Everyone should experience basic training at the very least. Some people who would never think of enlisting might find the military is the place for them and truly shine. We need them! And I think older people who are physically and mentally fit for the military should be able to enlist. I think the cut off is too soon. Some of us have more to give than the 20 somethings.

Oct. 04 2012 11:30 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Bringing back the draft is a tempting idea but the rich and powerful will always buy themselves out of it - plus, will women be drafted as well?

Oct. 04 2012 11:29 AM

If the draft is reinstated, women should also be required to serve (yes, I'm a woman).

I'd anticipate many applying for "religious exemptions." Romney's sons would be the first to do so!

Oct. 04 2012 11:29 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

RichardUWS, it all depends on which neighborhoods those folks would spend their year here. (See Marc from Brooklyn's 2 comments. There is a tremendous amount of hypocrisy and puffed-up delusion in this city. And I say this as a native.)

Oct. 04 2012 11:29 AM

Hey Solider's Dad - that sound you heard was 1000 eyeballs rolling at your naivete. Look, sorry if you're kid is stuck in some hole getting his butt shot at (if that IS the case), but he ain't protecting my "freedom". He's participating in murdering innocent people - which makes me feel less free. But then I don't look for muslims hiding under my libertarian bed - they must be hiding under your fascist one.

Oct. 04 2012 11:26 AM

Good point, MichaelB. I have always said if everybody spent a year living in New York there would be a lot more tolerance and understanding.

Oct. 04 2012 11:25 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

Many moons ago I worked as a sound engineer for a television producer, who was well known for his liberal politics. We and a gaffer and the producer's son were all driving past the Armed Forces Recruiting Center at Times Square. The producer pointed out the recruiting center, turned to his son, and said, "don't ever go in there. They'll promise you all kinds of foreign pu**y, but don't fall for that. Only idiots fall for that and enlist."

And that was with two veterans in the car.

Oct. 04 2012 11:23 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

RichardUWS, you stated the basic problem succinctly. I would only add that another benefit of required service is that people from all over the country and different socioeconomic backgrounds would get thrown together and have to deal with and learn about each other introduced to each other. True diversity with generally beneficial social benefits long term. Everyone from every strata of society bears some of the burden of the nation's military effort.

Oct. 04 2012 11:22 AM
David from NYC

I think if this war was not so vague in its mission
they would feel better.

Better treatment of Vets means more Washington spending which means higher taxes.The rich don't care about vets or those who fight wars never did never will

Yes reinstate the draft, and maybe those 20-somethings
will remember that Nov. 6th is a BIG day in this country.

Oct. 04 2012 11:21 AM

Michael B - baloney. Military people know what's at bottom of our militarism (and if they don't, then too bad for them). They sign on the dotted line, they buy the whole farm. My heart doesn't bleed for people who affirmatively make a choice to join - I feel sorrier for people struck by misfortune not of their own making (i.e., illness, etc.). And I only buy the "military was my only option" argument only so far.

Oct. 04 2012 11:20 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

While I was in Afghanistan my wife found our good, liberal Brooklyn Heights neighbors had subtly but discernibly turned icy and distant. It was as if she were married to a criminal rather than a serviceman in his country's service. It was very gratifying to hear about people avoiding her on the street. Thank you.

You hypocrites.

Oct. 04 2012 11:18 AM
CK from Westchester

What I want to know is why we have volunteer military at some bases where there's nothing going on (I'm thinking France) but we're sending our National Guard to Iraq. Isn't the National Guard meant to guard our nation (that is, here at home?) Close down those unneeded bases, bring home the National Guard. Get us the heck out of these wasteful wars in the ME. There's nothing there for us. Bring em home.

Oct. 04 2012 11:18 AM
Soldier's Father from Pelham NY

to Jack: Nice that you have the freedom to have a libertarian take on things. Ever think when you lie in your libertarian bed about what you owe the soldiers who have risked everything to safeguard that freedom for you?

Oct. 04 2012 11:15 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Jack, people sign up; they don't sign up for this war or that and once signed, they certainly don't get to choose which war they want to participate in and which they will pass on....

Oct. 04 2012 11:14 AM

I'll have more sympathy for vets when they start signing up for wars that are defensible. Until then, you make your bed, you lie in it. That's MY libertarian take on things.

Oct. 04 2012 11:11 AM

Sadly I think most of the money that is supposed to pay for vets to get to college just ends up going to some predatory for-profit online diploma mill. People who are legitimately "college material" will probably just take out loans rather than sign up to be IED fodder.

Oct. 04 2012 08:06 AM
Kathy LPV from Long Branch, NJ

1 - The military has ALWAYS been made up of "Two Americas." First, the enlisted (& earlier drafted) were those who A) couldn't go to college; B) couldn't Buy their way out; C) were unable to get into one of the Military Academies! These - are the ones who go & fight the wars - started by the Politicians & Officers.
2 - Enlisted pay is crap & always has been. When the Economy sunk in 2007 (before it was made public), thousands had no other choice BUT to enlist! It was that, crime, or you and your family starve.
- This is in NO WAY to say these people are not "Patriotic" - they ARE Very Patriotic, but most were also financially strapped with no other hope of employment.
3 - IF we ReallY want to help our Service Personnel - Rather than feed the "Military Industrial Complex" with the pork / earmarks of politician's districts - we need to pay the enlisted, including the National Guard, more than they get now!
There is Absolutely NO reason for any Vet or their family - to be homeless or hungry or dependent on Food Stamps as SO many ARE today! And those in war zones & overseas "remote duty" not only have to pay for their own daily needs, they pay a double duty, for their family needs at home!!!
FYI - My husband was one of those "couldn't go to college" draftees. His enlistment pay was 1/2 the civilian working the same job, next to him. Our Fed taxes were much more than the then President paid - yet we made $ 6-7,000 & he made $ 200,000! Sadly, this inequity, Officer /Enlisted & Civilian / Enlisted is still the same today.
- FYI Civilian & public workers make 30-40 % less than those with the same job in the Private sector!
IS that "Fair" treatment of our Service persons? (We also had to move ourselves about every year, till we were in 4 years. We had to replace the housekeeping staples, & though we got "gas & travel" pay - it was AFTER we got to the new base! & it Never covered the whole cost.
So you tell me - DO WE really "Honor & Respect" our Military? DO we Really treat them the way they deserve? WHO in DC is looking out for them rather than their "constituents" & the Military Industrial Complex?

Oct. 03 2012 01:48 PM

The volunteer military has at least 2 unintended effects. First, beyond a doubt it creates class divisions, because the ranks of the enlisted at least are filled by aspiring minorities attracted by the benefits of service (and in some cases by simple patriotic fervor) who at least over the last 10 years have been cannon fodder in wars perpetrated by those who will never serve nor whose children will ever serve and be at risk, so are quicker on the trigger. Second, those coming back from service at war seem to feel entitlement to special status despite having taken the job willingly knowing what they were getting themselves into, creating resentment among those who wonder why they should have special rights.
The best correction is that there be compulsory military service, with exemptions only in case of disqualifying physical or psychological impairment. Then, since wars are no longer declared, the Congress will think longer before authorizing military action because they will have their own kids' skin in the game, anybody will be able to continue to serve longer terms after the initial compulsory trial so will better understand their commitment, and those leaving the service will be a more balanced group who better understand those who remain.

Oct. 03 2012 12:12 PM

Why are ANY veterans HOMELESS ?

Lots of nice words, but that is of little help.

If we really DO value veterans, we should put
our money where our mouth is.

USE EMINENT DOMAIN - build quality housing in
the best parts of major cities. NO VETERAN

Why not take the 5th avenue townhouse of some
wealthy person who has contributed far less -
pay them their tax book value for the place,
build large buildings their and use most of
the appartments as affordable housing for VETS ?
You can then give the original owner the identical
squarefootage on the lower floors as their appartment
in compensation.

If we REALLY value VETS (as opposed to random
wealthy people) we would do whatever it takes
to make sure that NO VETERANS ARE HOMELESS!

Sep. 27 2012 01:02 PM
smith from califoria

smith says:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.

September 15, 2012 at 4:27 am

I am a vet from Iraq and the level of support and help from the Pendelton VA is nonexsistant!! If this is the future of what we all must wade through then I wish I had never signed up. I can only imagine from my own experiances how the previous vetrans were/are treated. I have recently been told that since the va paid for my xrays that i had no right to request them. My outrage of the 2 year medical wait and the further disrespect and neglect of these “professionals” leaves me in fear for my very life. God only knows the long term effects of this anthrax coursing threw my system.
It’s not a wonder why the government makes us sign a legal document saying active duty is not permitted to sue our medical providers for malpractice…

Sep. 15 2012 12:49 AM

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