Veterans Day is a day of celebration and commemoration for all those who have worn the uniform of the United States armed forces. As you come together with family and friends, remember not only those who have served, but those fighting halfway across the globe in America’s longest war.
In response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Congress authorized the president just days later — on Sept. 18 — to go after “those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”
Since that day, America has been at war.
The men and women who have deployed in Afghanistan and the Middle East under the 2001 authorization have done a remarkable job combatting terrorism abroad, keeping American soil safe, and bringing enemies of the United States to justice.
Usama bin Laden is dead, as are Saddam Hussein, Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Abu Muhsin al-Masri. Al Qaeda 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is standing trial. Afghanistan has held democratic elections.
Despite those accomplishments and the Trump administration’s efforts to decrease our troop presence, we are no closer to defining what “victory” in Afghanistan and the Middle East looks like.
What is the cost of our indecision?
Today, 18-year-olds are on deployment to fight in a war they weren’t alive to see begin. We have a generation of soldiers with no living memory of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers. They weren’t alive when Congress declared war in 2001, and they were still crawling when Congress passed the second authorization of force in 2002.
In some cases, the next generation of fighters are joining their parents, who first deployed nearly two decades ago on the same battlefield.
We’ve lost more than 7,000 brave patriots and seen almost 70,000 physically wounded — plus hundreds of thousands suffer the invisible wounds from post-traumatic stress (PTS) that our veterans still carry with them. These wounds and scars have led to an unacceptable rise in veteran suicides. We lose an average of 17 veterans a day to suicide, which is 150% of the non-veteran rate.
But with no clearly defined end-state or objectives, the deployments continue and so do the casualties. Sadly, the health care infrastructure at the Department of Veterans Affairs leaves them, far too often, without the care they need and deserve.
And while there is no monetary valuation for a human life, the American people have spent more than $2 trillion funding the fight, which will continue in perpetuity without action from Congress.
Less than half of 1% of the American people serve in the armed forces, many of them within the same family. The stories of soldiers deploying four, five, or even as many as 12 times are so common they barely raise eyebrows. As are the stories of veterans returning home and struggling to transition to civilian life.
These stories should be a sobering wake-up call for members of Congress — the vast majority of whom didn’t serve in Congress when the authorizations of force passed — to act. If we are going to expend the blood and treasure of America in pursuit of objectives that serve our national interest, we should make that clear to the American people — and most importantly — our troops.
Congress should honor our veterans and those currently serving in the military with a clear mission, the tools to carry it out, and the steadfast commitment from Congress and the American people that we will have their backs when they get home.