By Ric DeMarco

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In 1967 my oldest brother, Frank, was killed in Vietnam. I was 11 years old and, like the rest of my family, I was devastated beyond words. Frank left behind a young wife and three young sons. Another of my brothers had joined the Marines. Two years later, my uncle Tony, a World War II veteran, moved into our home, as the VA was unable to sufficiently care for his needs related to PTSD. My nieces and nephews are currently serving or have served in the military. Like many Americans, we are a family steeped in the U.S. military.

Each year our federal legislators pass a new military budget. When President Bill Clinton left office in 2001, our military budget had surpassed $200 billion. By the time President George W. Bush left office in 2009 and we were years deep into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, our military budget had grown to $716 billion per year.

For eight years under President Barack Obama, our military budget was between $718 billion and $583 billion. In contrast, between 2001 and 2016 our federal education budget went from $42 billion to $59 billion. Priorities? (These budget numbers were provided the website.) I’m not sure about you, but as these numbers fly about, I’ve had a difficult time understanding just what a billion dollars really means.

I recently read something that helped me better understand the difference between a million dollars and a billion dollars. The author explained that we might be better served to understand money by the means of “time.” As an example, a million seconds on our clocks is around 11 days. A billion seconds is about 32 years. What?!

These massive dollar numbers are batted back and forth in Washington, D.C., and state capitals like so many pingpong balls. But this dollars-to-time example really helped me understand just how much our tax dollars mean in our federal and state budgets.

We live in the greatest country in the world. I love America and am so grateful to all the courageous women and men who fought and are still fighting to protect us and keep us free. Our military commitments in the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been reduced tremendously. And yet there are other places in the world our brave service people are actively engaged.

The world is a dangerous place, and to defend our freedom we need the best-equipped and best-trained military in the world. Yet our yearly military budget, seemingly without much accountability or auditing, is greater than the rest of the world combined! What?! Yet even with these massive dollars, we still don’t adequately care for our military veterans and their families. Why is that?

We Americans are quick to applaud our veterans. But it seems we don’t truly value nor honor our veterans. Considering our gargantuan military budget, why are there homeless vets? Why are vets not getting prompt, sufficient medical or mental health care? Why do America’s veterans commit suicide each day? Why does the VA neglect the very vets who served so courageously?

It is clear that most of our vets live healthy, productive lives after they leave the service. Yet if we really valued all of our veterans, we would honor all of them by taking care of all their post-active-duty needs. Compared to all our collective applause and adulation, our collective neglect and apathy is deafening.

“America First” seems to be a constant rallying cry from both the left and the right. However to date, we’ve spent over $4 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Surely America can afford to respectfully and properly care for our veterans and their families. Let’s truly appreciate and applaud our veterans by honestly and properly taking care of them. By the way, a trillion seconds is about 32,000 years.

— Ric DeMarco lives in Bend.