We must keep faith with our veterans and fund critical reintegration programs

Paul Evans

By Paul Evans of Scappoose, Oregon. Paul is a former senior policy advisor to Governor Ted Kulongoski for emergency management, military, and veterans' affairs. Paul is the former mayor of Monmouth, Oregon, and an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.

35,000 wounded in action. 6,200 killed in action. The US has sustained combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly a decade with an immeasurable impact upon the 1% of Americans that comprise the "military community."

Last month President Obama ended the Iraq War and just recently released his strategic plan for the Department of Defense in the post-Iraq (and soon post-Afghanistan) period. This plan calls for significant reductions to the force and with it the uncertainty that comes with change.

I believe we have a brief moment to do something here, in Oregon, for the men and women that will be returning (and for the families of those that cannot), for the military families that have sacrificed, for the people that gave so much, so we didn't have to.

It is time for action.

Let us dedicate a specific funding stream for veterans' reintegration, veterans' education, and veterans' economic opportunities - before we turn our attention elsewhere, and before we conveniently forget the price of military service.

I propose this with full recognition of our current circumstances. Our state is navigating the rapids of a changing global economy. And the "General Fund" of our state budget is already insufficient for even the most basic of public services. Education, our environment, health care, public safety, and transportation, among others, are invaluable public enterprises.

However, there are other funding streams available should we seek to keep faith with the men and women, sons and daughters - we sent to war on our behalf. And while we cannot give the time, talent, and treasure back to our military families - we can assist them in "resetting" for a new future.

Accordingly, I advocate for a certain and specific set-aside of non-General Fund resourcing for veterans' programming. These funds should provide an integrated approach for linking military families with the tools required for success in the post-war world.

We should set-aside a portion of Lottery profits for the particular kind of economic development reinvestment in our military families would provide. When veterans are provided help for education, workforce training, and the support required for a healthy reintegration into our communities we all win, we all prosper.

Let us secure the funds to do these things right this time. We learned after Vietnam that the moment for action passes quickly and we do not want to remake the mistakes of the past.

Fortunately, Oregon has already proven that we do not want to make those mistakes.

Oregon has made significant progress in veterans' programming. 2009 was an historic year for state-led veterans' initiatives. During that effort, we learned that dollars spent on veterans yield an exponential return on investment in each, every case.

There are several initiatives floating around right now. All of them are worthy of our consideration. Development of new games with dedicated funding, a 2% set-aside of gross Lottery profits, and/or a combination of the two are presently "on the table."

We have done well adapting to the dynamic changes resulting from the way our nation fought the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - so far.

We have done well balancing our differences of opinion about the war/s with our resolute support for our troops sent to fight on our behalf.

But we must secure the progress made now, with dedicated resources, before it is too late. Before we shift our attention and forget the debt we all owe to our military families.

I ask all Oregonians, all progressives, to continue working on veterans' reintegration issues.

Reach out to candidates willing to support this effort, and support those already in office that make it a priority.

Together we can make certain that our military families are provided with the tools to rediscover their place within our community.

Together we can make Oregon an example of how to value military families.

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