Over-Thanking our Veterans – Is It Too Much?
In a very interesting Op-Ed for the New York Times, Navy veteran Ken Harbaugh challenges our current disability compensation structure and asks us to be willing to question whether we’re overcompensating veterans without feeling like we’re being unpatriotic. It’s a fascinating read, and he brings up some very interesting points, which his military credentials lend extra weight too. At the beginning of the article, he talks about several common things that we do to show our appreciation to members of our military such as thanking them for their service, letting them go to the head of the line in airports, and offering discounts in restaurants and other establishments. Harbaugh is careful to not come across ungrateful: “While this can seem superficial at times, there is not a vet alive who would prefer the other extreme. My father served in Vietnam, and the welcome home his generation received was a national disgrace.”
The Issues Begin with Politics (as usual)
Harbaugh explains that there’s nothing inherently wrong with an attitude of gratitude to our veterans (quite the contrary), but that the public sentiment often affects legislative decisions in extreme and sometimes harmful ways. Elected officials, most of which have not served in the military, are hit with a triple combo of motivation to pump up the VA budget: they themselves feel the same gratitude for veterans that the rest of us share, they feel extreme pressure to be on “the right side” of the veterans issue, and they also feel that, as nonveterans, they lack the moral high ground to be able to “put a price” on helping veterans. Harbaugh feels that this has resulted in a combination of too much money, specifically in the disability compensation system, and a lack of accountability for veterans who make disability claims.
Many others feel different and have good reasons for doing so. It’s important to remember that even though the VA’s budget has tripled since 2000, we are also directly dealing with the aftermath of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, while in the year 2000 we were about 20 years removed from the last major conflict. Critics of Harbaugh’s position also point out that the fatality rate of our most recent conflicts is much lower than previous wars, meaning that fewer soldiers have died but more have come home injured or disabled in some way. All this makes the significant increase in the VA’s disability compensation budget make a lot more sense.
A Lack of Ways to Combat Abuse Wastes Money
While Harbaugh may be wrong about the amount of money being dedicated to veterans disability being too much, he is dead-on about the issue of fraudulent disability claims. It’s relatively easy to make disability claims and receive compensation for issues that a veteran doesn’t actually have. He also makes a compelling case for how we over-compensate veterans who are fully capable of holding full-time jobs. He relates the following experience:
“Sometimes it takes no effort at all. When I left the Navy in 2005, I filled out a form and got a medical exam in order to document a fractured shoulder that I had sustained in the line of duty. Soon after, I received a rating and my first monthly direct deposit payment.
Not feeling entitled to anything other than medical care, I attempted to discontinue the payment but was told there was no process for doing so. Even my ability to hold a full-time job had no bearing on my disability rating.”
Just the fact that Harbaugh attempted to prevent the VA from giving him free money is commendable, but his experience paints an interesting picture. Will many veterans be motivated to do less than they could do simply because they don’t need to make as much money to support themselves? It’s the age-old question of welfare: where is the line between providing a leg-up to people in need and creating dependency where there wasn’t before? No matter what side of the debate you are on, I think we can all agree that it’s an important debate to have. Feel free to check out Harbaugh’s full opinion piece on the New York Times website. It’s worth a read, and the comments are far more interesting and constructive than most comment sections.