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Obama administration should address veteran needs, says CNAS

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The second Obama administration faces difficult choices over servicemember and veteran issues including suicide, disability claims, and homelessness amidst pressure to cut spending, says a report from the Center for New American Security.

The report (.pdf), published Nov. 9, notes during the 11 years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the government spent more than $2 trillion on 22 million veterans and 2.5 million active servicemembers. That's a 46 percent increase in personnel costs from 2002 to 2012, and a corresponding 95 percent increase in funding for the Veterans Affairs Department.

Surprisingly, says the report, during these years "the number of active and reserve troops increased only slightly and the number of veterans declined."

The report still expresses concerns over potential budget cuts coming to the Defense Department and the VA as a result of a push for budget austerity and pending sequestration.

The report points to three areas the Obama administration needs to tackle: servicemember social services, improving government operations related to veterans, and addressing a potential funding and recruitment gap due to apathy.

Servicemembers are at a high risk for unemployment, suicide and homelessness, often linked to combat stress, and the administration must address this "in ways that exceed work done during the past four years." It notes that military suicides caused more deaths among service members in 2012 than combat action in Afghanistan.

Government operations that need to be addressed, according to the study, are typically support areas and services, covering issues like removing the backlog of claims at the VA.

The last major area of concern is the public awareness and image for the military. It warns that as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan move further out of public view, there will be a corresponding drop in public interest in veterans and the military community that can impact recruitment rates as well as the amount citizens want to spend on or donate to veterans' services.

The report says the administration must keep the public's attention on issues facing veterans, servicemembers and their families, and that this will also maintain political support to address the other problems facing these groups.

For more:
- read the reportm "Upholding the Promise: A Strategy for Veterans and Military Personnel" (.pdf)

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