This Veterans Day, I want to thank all of the men and women who have bravely served our country. I am so glad for every one of them who has returned home. So very glad. My son didn't return. U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Lourey served proudly as an instructor pilot in 4-2 ACR during one of the most pivotal periods in the unit's history. Matt was a highly skilled aviator who loved to teach and train army aviators, and who died on May 26, 2005, in Buhriz, Iraq, in service to his country when his OH58 was shot down while he was saving soldiers on the ground. In his memory, I must do all I can to ensure that our returning veterans receive all the care necessary to recover and maintain their health. A grateful nation also must establish the pathway for the skills and education our veterans gained while serving our country to be transitioned to jobs at home. Nothing less than this will do as we recognize the sacrifices they made and the risks they took.
I also must weigh in lest we as a people lose track of the balance we need in order to remain strong as a country. With the elections over, Congress must roll up its sleeves and get to work addressing a range of issues, including mandated cuts to both domestic and Pentagon spending ("sequestration"). Some members of Congress have proposed exempting the Pentagon from any spending scrutiny. They are quick to bring up our troops and veterans to scare us into thinking the inflated Pentagon budget is untouchable and should be continued to allow to rise as it has for more than a decade. As Matt's mother, I think otherwise.
First, claims that the upcoming mandated reductions to Pentagon spending will have a major effect on veterans and active military personnel are inaccurate. Current law protects the Department of Veterans Affairs by exempting this department from spending cuts; further, the administration has affirmed that military personnel also will be exempted from any cuts if sequestration occurs.
Second, this fear-mongering is really about protecting Pentagon contractor profits, not about protecting our military personnel and veterans. Pentagon contracting firms have seen record profits, and some of their CEOs make salaries that are on par with Wall Street executives. Additionally, the top five Pentagon contractors -- Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon -- have reduced their employment rolls by more than 18,000 workers over the past six years while their profits grew dramatically. They are also increasing their spending on lobbying.
We need to reshape the Pentagon budget to address 21st-century threats to keep our nation safe and secure. As our top priority, we must protect and support the men and women serving in the military, and we must honor and support our veterans and military families. This means carefully scrubbing the Pentagon budget for waste and reevaluating spending on Cold War weapons and programs not meeting the needs of today's military. For example, for the cost of just one new nuclear submarine, we could provide body armor and bomb-resistant Humvees to all our troops overseas, as well as house and treat every homeless U.S. veteran, and still have $2.2 billion left over to pay down our debt.
Finally, veterans rely on programs that assist the middle class and the more vulnerable. These programs, ranging from education and job training to heating and housing assistance, are also slated for cuts in the coming years. If Pentagon contractors get their way and are allowed to keep unneeded government contracts, these programs and others that serve our veterans, military families and hardworking people all across our nation face even deeper cuts.
I want to keep our nation strong and secure; I want to ensure that our troops and veterans have the opportunities they have earned after defending our nation. This Veterans Day, I call on our politicians to have a serious, grown-up conversation about how to solve our fiscal crisis. Don't play political games. Our veterans and our nation deserve better.
Becky Lourey is a former Minnesota state senator and an active member of the Women Legislator's Lobby -- a program of Women's Action for New Directions (WAND).