Ceasefire Over: I Have a Bone to Pick With Congressman Ryan

Book given to U.S. veterans in 1919 to help th...

Book given to U.S. veterans in 1919 to help them readjust to civilian life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before Christmas I decided to write to Congressman Paul Ryan.  It was important that I express my feelings about Washington’s broken promise to veterans who have shouldered a very heavy burden for a very long time.   I debated vehemently with myself for weeks over whether or not to publish my opinion,  reluctant to push that button and add more  anger to the online atmosphere.  After careful consideration, I’ve decided it’s time to show my unwavering support for my extended family, the U.S. Military.  I spent the Holidays in quiet reverence and reflection, but now the ceasefire is over and I will no longer remain silent.

During Christmas Break, my husband and I watched a documentary about the surge in Iraq.   His Brigade Combat Team was instrumental in this operation and suffered massive losses.  Grateful for surviving, my husband has never looked at the world the same since this deployment.  While watching the documentary, I kept asking myself over and over: we upheld our promises to serve this country; why has our government broken its promise to us?  Very telling statements by Congressman Ryan — that veteran pension earnings are “benefits”, implying an opinion that we haven’t actually earned them — reveal genuine disrespect for service  members and the inability to understand how to care for veterans adequately.  The fact that so many colleagues backed Mr. Ryan’s bill indicates  this same attitude is running rampant in Washington.

I actually sent Mr. Ryan a handwritten letter because our printer is broken.  Printers are expensive; has anyone else noticed that they seem to be more expensive than in past years?   Contrary to certain opinions, money does not grow on the trees in military families’ back yards.  But when it comes down to it, the money is not the thing.  The fundamental difference between veterans and politicians is that politicians may worry about who deserves handouts while veterans concern themselves with upholding promises made.  It is the principles, the ethics, intrinsic to breaking promises, ruining trust, and devaluing America’s veterans, that reveals the characters.  Ugly characters.  That is the thing that must be addressed.

A serious problem lies in the very ethics behind the budget bill.  This idea has been presented and accepted, that we take wealth from one entity and distribute it to benefit another entity.  Sure, it has been gift wrapped in a glittering concept that by  doing this we are “saving” America from another government shutdown and possibly larger catastrophes in 2014.  Is anyone really benefiting after this is all said and done?  The idea is now acceptable that our government can and should skim from the earnings of veterans who have given everything to protect our country and the American way of life!  Where will it end?  Who else will be arbitrarily targeted in the coming years?  Agree with me or don’t, but until we lose the right to speak against abusive governance, I will be one opinionated American.  Below are excerpts from my letter to Congressman Ryan, with further thoughts on the matter.

Congressman Ryan,

I am deeply disappointed with your attitude toward the military members who will be affected by your budget plan.  In statements regarding the plan, you have insinuated that military members, who do not pay into their pensions, are perhaps creating an unfair burden to the “hard-working taxpayers” and that it is only “right and fair” that we make further sacrifices on top of our selfless service to this country.  You assume that we will continue working after retirement from military service and cite that we receive ample benefits and pensions considerably more generous than those of many civilian counterparts.  The truth is that we are not protected from politicians like you and we can lose our benefits and hard earned pay on a whim, as you have so masterfully demonstrated.

It is no secret that civilian counterparts doing the same or similar jobs tend to earn higher wages than service members.  Military spouses, regardless of their education and work experience, are often resigned to taking jobs paying substantially lower wages than their civilian counterparts because they are  not ‘geographically stable’.  Service members are also not guaranteed lucrative careers after retirement; while there are programs in place to help them transition into the civilian workforce, as a group veterans are in no better position than anyone else.  Service members and military families are not given unfair advantages over civilian counterparts, and any allusions to this are purely myth.

…If you are wondering about the ridiculous pink paper and handwritten message, my printer is broken.  Printers are expensive, funds are pretty thin, and being a military family – despite what you believe – we simply can’t afford a new one right now. We tighten the belt every year to put away savings, and our family will be directly affected by  your budget plan.

I really wanted him to understand the reason behind the silly pink paper.  Being a military family means making sacrifices and often doing without the creature comforts that make life so convenient.  Military families live paycheck to paycheck like most every other family in the United States, and we struggle to make ends meet like everyone else.  I have no qualms writing a letter to a member of Congress on ugly pink paper if that is all I have.  Reality is — and isn’t — funny, don’t you think?

…My husband and I are OIF and OEF veterans.  Between us, we have worked with and personally know thousands of service members… We are all hard-working, tax paying citizens who have served our country with loyalty, pride and honor.  The family members of these heroes sacrifice more than they are given credit for; spouses often forego lucrative careers because of numerous moves, and watch their children grow up without the service members…due to multiple deployments, long training sessions, and late work days.  To insinuate that we are in some way creating a burden to the rest of the country, or that we have an unfair advantage, or that we are not as hard-working because we have not traditionally been required to contribute to our retirement pensions — and that the “right and fair” thing to do is to take away from us — is ignorant and disrespectful.

The term “right and fair” is so off-putting that it is difficult for me to imagine that Congressman Ryan did not actually intend for this statement to be condescending.  If we veterans are being fed a guilt trip instead of being given basic respect, it isn’t terribly far-fetched to imagine how much worse things could become for everyone.

…It is also selfish and exploitative to assume that the military is a reusable and disposable force that can be worked over and over…This is your assumption, correct? That we will just keep working and earning money that we may or may not be allowed to possess?

The military has already been labeled a burden.  Apparently military families who have been making constant sacrifices throughout the War on Terror Era still present an inconvenience because of our very existence .  Yet possibly most unsettling is the concept of the ‘disposable workforce’, which has surfaced on more than one occasion since I wrote this letter a few weeks before Christmas.   It was scary when, in September/October of 2013 we military families faced the possibility of going without any pay during the government shutdown.  We were spared but I can imagine how detrimental this was for the DoD civilians!  Until then I never imagined that the government could just take away our pay, indefinitely, on a whim, due to its own dysfunction, and let its best and most loyal face the ugly consequences.  A government that plays with the idea of allowing its military families to face poverty and hunger does consider these individuals to be disposable and I dare it to prove me wrong.

…You do not deserve to serve this country or to run for office if it means riding on the backs of the military members who have worked, fought, and given their lives to insure your freedom and security… Military members should be given an immediate and public apology for your insensitivity.  You were quick to pat yourself and colleagues on the back in public; I find this cowardly considering whose money you are using to clean up your mess.  I also find it cowardly to put your bill and yourself on a pedestal while devaluing veterans publicly.

I want you to remember, as you go to your posh holiday parties…there are military families with barely enough money right now to buy one nice Christmas dinner, and they, NOT YOU, have been holding up this country through sacrifice, love and service…You have no comprehension of what the military has done for you.  Stop being so proud and think about the ethics and consequences of your actions.  Where does it end, once the idea becomes acceptable to take away the wealth of the ones who fight to protect your land and your livelihood?  Your victory in Washington is a loss of trust between veterans and a government we swore to serve faithfully.  

Regards,

—G

When I joined the National Guard in 1998, I joined under the impression that my government would always back me up, because I promised to serve my country loyally when I took my oath of enlistment.  When I became an Army spouse in 2004 I was still under the impression that our government was supporting the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Guardsmen of America.  I will find it very difficult to ever trust politicians again, but I will always be loyal and reliable to my military families.

If you are interested in this topic, any and all of the related articles are incredible.  I particularly like The Right Thing and Why Should Our Military Suck It Up.  

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