Written By: Shannon P. Meehan, IVMF Communications Specialist
The aftermath of the presidential election presents an opportune time to reflect on past policies while exploring what’s on the horizon for our nation’s military and veterans. As we contemplate how the president and his administration will handle military and veteran-related challenges presented during the second term, both internationally and on the home front, we can look back more closely at foreign and domestic policies exercised over the last four years to gain perspective on how our veterans and military families may be affected. All of these issues no matter how big or small, foreign or domestic, ultimately have an effect on the entire military and veteran community.
It is easy to connect the dots. Growing tensions can lead to future conflicts, which can result in more deployments, combat operations and inevitable casualties. These outcomes, in turn, lead to a sharp increase in the number of veterans requiring Veterans Administration (VA) care and drastic fluctuation in the size of our military. The connections are endless, so as we examine the past and look to the next four years, we must keep in mind how the smallest of foreign affair issues can indirectly have a great impact on our nation’s veteran and military communities.
Throughout the first term, President Obama’s administration has experienced a reasonable share of foreign affairs challenges. While navigating the country through two wars– Iraq and Afghanistan—the administration has been handling the growing nuclear threat of Iran, complex economic ties with China, a changing cast of dictators in North Korea, widespread violence in Libya and Syria as a result of the Arab Spring, and the ever-changing and unstable situations in the Middle East and North Africa. The administration has had some success through these challenges, most notably the ending of the Iraq War, the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the removal of el-Qaddafi in Libya.
To date, U.S. international relations can best be described as pursuing negotiation and bilateral action over unilateral action. This has been demonstrated most recently through the president’s work with a coalition of nations to pressure dictators to step down in the midst of liberation movements in Libya, Syria, and Egypt.
Armed with coalitions, bilateral action, and pressure through sanctions to further our country’s foreign policy, the administration has favored the use of drone strikes, particularly in Pakistan, and special operations to kill high level terrorists, as opposed to full scale invasions—the surgical knife over the broad sword approach.
But even these successes have been tempered by negative consequences. The highly effective drone strikes over Pakistan have caused civilian casualties. The raid to capture and kill bin Laden broke Pakistan’s sovereign borders. Such events have further strained the already fragile relationship with our country’s most erratic ally, Pakistan.
During the first term, the administration has withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq, effectively ending America’s longest war, and has set a timetable to pull troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. In the early days of the Obama presidency, the U.S. had upwards of 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That number, now just less than half, continues to shrink as the transition of power and security operations continues in Afghanistan.
As the wars in the Middle East continue to wind down, the administration has refocused the future of our nation’s military, working to shape a leaner but more technically proficient and streamlined force across Asia Pacific and the Middle East. Prioritizing and investing in intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, special operations forces, and cyber-warfare, the move to slim down ground forces aims to push our military further away from outdated conventional warfare systems.
Though our military may be slimming down over the next few years, the VA faces continued growth. With more and more troops returning home from war with psychological issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD and traumatic head or brain injuries (TBI), the administration has sharply increased the number of programs specifically designed to treat the psychological and physical effects on our military after a decade at war. The VA has also hired over 3,500 mental health professionals since 2009, and plans to hire 1,600 more to address these challenges. Additionally, the administration has worked with the VA to expand telemedicine and transportation services to veterans, allowing vets to receive care faster.
This is all very promising news to veterans like myself, who suffer from both TBI and PTSD; the two most common injuries from the wars in the Middle East. Such VA issues have become a focus for me, personally, as I receive care for my physical and cognitive injuries through the VA, injuries that have had a significant impact not only on myself, but my family. Ten years ago, who would have thought that the trials and tribulations in the Middle East would one day have a personal effect on my family? Who would have thought that even issues seemingly far from our shorelines could have a direct impact on all of our nation’s veterans and military families?
Above all else, our administration during the first term, and looking ahead to the next, has pledged that the U.S. military will remain the strongest military in the world. The administration has emphasized that it will continue to be the best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led, stating, “Our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.”
Looking forward, I am cautiously optimistic. I see as much reason for hope as I do cause for concern. What I ultimately see is that understanding what’s best for our veterans and military families starts with understanding every issue facing our nation and the long term, indirect effects they may pose.