A Call for a National Strategy on Veterans

March 6, 2013 | By Mike Haynie & Nicholas Armstrong

(Reprinted from the New York Times) Stand on the corner of H Street and Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C., and in every direction you’ll see the ways and means of American government — the White House in front, the Treasury to the left and the huge Office of Management and Budget building down the street and to the right. This vista is both symbolic of — and essential to running — our system of governance “by the people, for the people.”

On that same corner sits the Department of Veterans Affairs. No building in Washington is more emblematic of the sacrifices made by citizens of this nation in service to the ideals of freedom and democracy.

At the entrance to the department is a bronze plaque that reads, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” These words, spoken by President Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, embody the notion that all Americans are inherently connected to those citizens who “have borne the battle.” In truth, however, America has a somewhat uneven history with regard to upholding this assumed social contract.

As the nation approaches the end of its longest war, in Afghanistan, we suggest a historic (and long overdue) action: crafting and institutionalizing a coordinated, comprehensive, whole-of-the-nation National Veterans Strategy.

What do we mean by a National Veterans Strategy? First, we mean starting a national dialogue to define our societal obligations to those who volunteer for military service. Second, we mean establishing policies to carry out those obligations, engaging government, the private sector, veterans service organizations and local communities to combine resources in support of veterans and their families. In a report released recently by our offices at Syracuse University, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, we recommend several steps the federal government should take toward creating such a strategy. Those include creating an interagency commission to develop the policy, establishing an office to oversee the policy and forming a coalition of private groups willing to collaborate in supporting veterans and their families.

A National Veterans Strategy represents an opportunity not just to improve programs, but also nurture healthier civil-military relations and ensure a strong, sustainable national defense. It’s a chance to confer new meaning to President Lincoln’s words. But why now? … MORE