Impending defense cuts concern veterans groups - East Valley Tribune: West Valley

Impending defense cuts concern veterans groups

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Posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 9:00 am

By failing to identify major cuts to the federal budget to the tune of $1.2 trillion, American Legion member George Cushing is concerned what the ineffectiveness of the congressional supercommittee could mean for national security and ensuring veterans receive benefits.

Cushing returned home this month from Washington, D.C., after a meeting in the office of Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

With other American Legion members by his side, the Surprise resident discussed with Senate staffers the veterans service organization’s concerns regarding Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs budgets.

American Legion officials said they brought their member constituents to meetings of the supercommittee as a lobbying force to “personalize the impact” about their concerns.

Among the American Legion’s major issues was the matter of “sequestration.”

Because the bipartisan supercommittee failed to reach consensus on the deficit-reduction goals, the terms of last summer’s federal budget deal require an automatic half-trillion dollars in defense cuts alone.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called the idea “mindless,” saying sequestration would “do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect the country.”

While he didn’t speak with Kyl directly, Cushing was told the longtime Arizona lawmaker was on board with the American Legion’s proposal and the organization’s concerns were being taken seriously. Still, Cushing said he was disappointed with the supercommittee’s failure.

“We were very strong in our feelings to not have this committee fail,” he said. “Failure was not an acceptable position and outcome as far as we were concerned. Now that the committee has failed, we are certainly concerned about what this does to our national security and the protection of veterans.”

The supercommittee’s inability to act could mean $492 billion in cuts to defense spending by January 2013.

Cushing said he believes this means Army ground forces around the world will eventually be rolled back to pre-World War II levels, Navy troops to pre-World War I levels, and the Air Force “certainly will be the smallest size its ever been.”

Cushing said the American Legion also reached out to Sen. John McCain of Arizona on the issue through written correspondence on behalf of the roughly 600,000 veterans living in Arizona.

“We’re very concerned that these tremendous cuts are going to affect our ability as a nation to protect ourselves,” he said. “Our ability to defend ourselves has been reduced (with this inaction), and it will be because of the reduction in ground-force troops that we haven’t seen in a long, long time.”

In addition, Cushing, a 23-year retired Army and Air Force veteran, said there is concern among American Legion members that soldiers returning home from combat will deal with physical and mental ailments, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and whether there will be enough federal dollars to treat them.

Ensuring veteran job placement programs and efforts to help those who become homeless are also major matters.

“Obviously this is a concern for all veterans’ communities, whether they’re fully retired military or served a four- or six-year term,” Cushing said. “There are benefits that have been earned by our veterans, and we’re a little concerned, because of these funding cuts, that we may not receive them.”

While acknowledging a sense of understanding that the nation’s economy is struggling, Cushing said the American Legion will continue to petition legislators between now and January 2013 to find ways to alleviate the $492 billion in defense cuts.

“We don’t want to see across-the-board cuts,” he said. “National defense is one of the four pillars that our great organization was founded on. We want to make sure, that when the time arises, we’re able to defend ourselves.”

To that end, Cushing said he believes the American Legion has a winning formula.

“We’re not giving up and will make sure our talking points are accurate,” he said. “Public opinion seems to be on our side, so we think we will prevail over the long run.”

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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