As the federal government looks for ways to slash its budget, defense spending finds itself under the microscope. USAA's Joe Robles hopes that those making the cuts consider a few key issues before they act.
Robles, a retired U.S. Army major general and USAA's president and CEO, touched on this issue during an address to The American Legion's 94th National Convention on Aug. 29. USAA and the Legion work together to strengthen support to America's veterans while giving Legionnaires access to USAA's insurance and financial services.
"(The nation's leaders) have to consider ways to make the right cuts while preserving national security," Robles said. "As they struggle to find this balance, I hope they would keep in mind three imperatives: Make sure we're prepared to defend against future threats to our national security. Understand that an investment in the military is an investment in America. And... do everything we can to ease the reintegration of our returning veterans into civilian society."
Robles said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stretched U.S. forces thin, and that when forces are scaled back during peacetime, it always takes a while to grow the forces back. "While we do it, we're more vulnerable than we should be," Robles said. "We don't know where the next big threat will develop... so we have to be very careful as we slash defense outlays and cut troops."
The military provides more than just national defense, Robles explained. He pointed to the National Guard's and Army's roles during Hurricane Katrina and pointed to Hurricane Isaac as another situation where one or the other will be needed again.
"Another important military contribution to American society is the development of citizen leaders," he said. "They bring with them some of the finest leadership and technical skills and seed those skills throughout the halls of business, education, law, medicine and politics."
Finally, Robles said, many servicemembers face difficulties transitioning into the civilian world. Dealing with injuries and finding employment are among those difficulties.
"With all of these challenges, it is up to the rest of us to facilitate their civilian transition," Robles said. "Companies can do more to hire veterans. After they're hired, companies can accommodate their physical and mental injuries by providing things like flexible schedules, job mentoring, and time off for treatment and counseling."
Cutting the defense budget isn't a simple solution, Robles said. "Certainly, in a time of massive deficits, the military will have to make real budget sacrifices," he said. "But I hope our leaders will address the cuts in a way that will not sacrifice the security of the country, or the incredible contributions of the (servicemembers and veterans) who have done – and will continue to do – so much for so many."