Vermont’s Senator Sanders Is Right: Use War Money to Take Care of Veterans

Sen. Bernie Sanders at a press conference on the impact the government shutdown is having on the delivery of services to America's veterans.Sen. Bernie Sanders at a press conference on the impact the government shutdown is having on the delivery of services to America’s veterans. (Photo: AFGE)Sometimes Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders does something that reminds us that it does actually matter that he’s an Independent in the best sense of the word: thinking for himself, not accepting the DC “conventional wisdom” that often defines the limits of reform.

Now, Bernie’s done it again, proposing to use war funding to pay for veterans’ benefits, with the most politically salient feature of his proposal being its reversal of the military pension cuts included in the Ryan-Murray budget deal.

The Hill reports:

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says he wants to pay for restoring $6 billion in cuts to military pensions by tapping funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sanders told reporters Wednesday that he was eyeing overseas contingency operations (OCO) to pay for most – if not all – of the $30 billion veterans omnibus bill he introduced last week, which includes the repeal of the military retirement benefits cut.

The Veterans Affairs chairman said he believed funds typically used by the Pentagon and State Department for overseas wars should also extend to veterans back at home.

“We use OCO for defense, and I think it’s totally legitimate to use it for those who defend us,” Sanders said. “I think a significant amount, or all of it, could come from OCO . . . I believe having looked at this, there is more than enough money in that fund to fund this legislation.”

The National Journal notes that 18 military and veterans organizations have backed Sanders’ proposal, and Sanders said he believes it will soon have the support of every major veterans organization in the country.

Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have long argued that we fundamentally undercount the cost of war if we exclude the cost of caring for veterans afterwards. The future cost of caring for veterans is a fundamental cost of war, and honest budgeting would include it in accounting for war cost.

In addition to providing direct benefit to veterans, Sanders’ proposal, if enacted, would help right a fundamental and dangerous wrong: pretending that caring for veterans is not a cost of war. You can urge Congress and the president to support Senator Sanders’ proposal here.