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The Pentagon's bafflingly backward priorities
We can't afford to help veterans pay for school. We can afford missile defense systems that don't work. Brilliant!
D.B. Grady
D.B. Grady
T

hanks to Washington's much-discussed budget sequestration, tuition assistance for veterans has been eliminated. This will save the government $373 million, and allow such programs as the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a $2 billion (so far) missile defense system, to continue testing. (MEADS doesn't actually work yet, but defense contractor Lockheed Martin will get it right. They just need more time.)

Clearly, the Department of Defense didn't have any choice but to cut tuition assistance for veterans. As a veteran who once benefited from the program myself, I feel some shame and guilt at having denied the military-industrial complex even a penny of the $769 million that it will take to keep an F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter in the air. (That's per plane. The entire program will run somewhere on the order of $1.5 trillion.) Sure, pilots are warning that the fighter's poor design will get them shot down, but let's face it: When was the last time some guy in uniform wasn't complaining about something? Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems know what they're doing. They've proven that already.

The Pentagon needed money, and where else was it supposed to come from but tuition assistance for veterans? The Department of Homeland Security had already called dibs on $50 million for new uniforms for the security guards who run your luggage through an x-ray machine at airports. And it takes serious cash to run the White House Graphics and Calligraphy Office. (The Chief Calligrapher and her two subordinates command $277,000 a year, and I don't think that number includes the cost of pens.)

Besides, soldiers are expensive! They can retire after 20 years and reap 50 percent of their base pay forever. Meanwhile, 76,000 veterans are homeless, and 9.7 percent of veterans are unemployed. Sure, those freeloaders will work hard to fix Afghanistan, but won't lift a finger to fix our economy. And the divorce rate of veterans is higher than that of their civilian counterparts, so it's clear that they don't even respect the sanctity of marriage.

And really, if these soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen had done a better job fighting their wars, we wouldn't have needed so many of them. Now that they're bellyaching to get on the government dole, perhaps we're justified in tearing up the contract. They're the ones who breached it, after all. We gave them some great uniforms (again and again), cool gear, first-rate medical care, shelter, and schools for their kids. In return, these men and women weren't even competent enough to find Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons.

So I think we can all agree that the Department of Defense is justified in stopping tuition assistance. I'm not even sure why veterans need more education. They already received excellent training in the service. The skills of an infantryman apply perfectly to most jobs. Such abilities as field stripping a rifle or "clearing hot" a target are basically what they teach in university-level physics classes anyway. I hate to use the word "freeloaders" again, but veterans are trying to get a good education twice over, and we just don't have that kind of money anymore.

Yep, money's tight, and tens of thousands of troops are coming back from Afghanistan. All of us are suffering over here, so why shouldn't soldiers suffer a little, too? Vacation's over, guys. Welcome to the United States of America. I don't have free medical care. Why should you?

These men and women volunteered for service knowing that they might be killed. And here they are (mostly), still alive. That alone sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. We already paid these people to go on nice long trips to exotic locales around the world. Aren't you tired of having to thank them for their service? Isn't it about time they start thanking us?

David Brown is a freelance writer and novelist generally published under the pseudonym D.B. Grady. He is the co-author of Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. He is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a regular contributor to TheWeek.com and Mental Floss. His work can be found at dbgrady.com.

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