American Legion blasts Defense Cut Proposals

The board of directors of the nation's largest veterans organization is warning that proposed cuts to the Department of Defense and veterans benefits would not only hurt the economy but they would also do "irreversible and irreparable harm to the military capability of the U.S. to defend the nation..."

The American Legion's National Executive Committee unanimously passed an official statement today that the Legion "encourages Congress and the administration to cease all efforts to reduce the defense budget from its current level."

Officials in both The American Legion and the Department of Defense are extremely concerned about the work of the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The bi-cameral "supercommitee" is charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in overall federal deficit reductions over 10 years. If the bi-partisan group does not agree to a plan by Nov. 23, automatic spending cuts are triggered, including $1 trillion in defense spending.

Those cuts "would leave us with the smallest Army and Marine Corps in decades, the smallest Air Force in history, and the smallest Navy since (William) McKinley was president," former Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn said last week to the Center for American Progress. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the potential cuts "catastrophic."

"It is unconscionable to consider cuts to defense while we are engaged in three wars," American Legion National Commander Fang Wong said. "Throughout our nation's history, every time we cut defense we have paid for it with American blood."

Lynn pointed out that the first engagement of the Korean War, "Task Force Smith," came after a major drawdown following the defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II."Teenagers fresh from basic training, led by officers who lacked combat experience, found themselves facing a numerically superior North Korean force. With only 120 rounds of ammunition each, two days of C rations [and] six antitank shells, our forces were simply unable to stop the North Korean advance.

"Each time we reduced the defense budget, we created holes in our military capabilities that we had to buy back later at great cost," Lynn continued. "When we were lucky, that cost was in dollars. When we were not lucky, that cost was in the lives of our troops."

The official statement by the Legion, Resolution 1, points out that Panetta stated a $1 trillion cut in national defense would increase unemployment by one percent. "Even if this unemployment increased by only one-third of one percent, it would equate to approximately 500,000 jobs lost," the Resolution states.

Wong, a Vietnam War veteran, warned that proposed cuts to the military's retirement pension and health care systems will also hurt America's ability to retain the forces that it needs. Some have proposed that future military pensions be converted into 401-k plans.

"Comparing military retirement benefits with what is available in the private sector isn't comparing apples to oranges. It's comparing apples to peanuts, which are what our troops are paid," Wong said. "If our leaders in Washington are intent on making military life like the private sector, then that's the path our young people will choose - the private sector! ‘Grandfathering' benefits for today's military, while cutting benefits for tomorrow's warriors, guarantees that America will be less prepared to fight the next war. As it is, only about one-half of one-percent of the U.S. population is currently serving in the military, meaning that veterans are already making a disproportionate sacrifice in fighting the Global War on Terrorism.

"We all understand that America has an enormous national debt," Wong continued. "Yet, we have no debt larger than what is owed to our veterans and those still serving in uniform. They have already paid their share. Cut the budget elsewhere."

With a current membership of 2.4-million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.

-30-Contact: Joe March or John Raughter, 317-630-1253 / 317-441-8847; Marty Callaghan, mcallaghan@legion.org or 202-263-5758/202-215-8644.