Why Congress Scares Me More Than Deployment


My husband will deploy next year to Afghanistan in a junky military aircraft without ejection seats. His battlefield enemies don’t scare me nearly as much as Congress does. Why?

Because the Senate just approved the bipartisan budget deal with the pension and cost of living adjustment cuts to both active duty and retired American military personnel. This significant legislation departs from the usual ‘phasing in’ of legal changes which affects incoming, not current and retired, troops.

So now although I know what APO address to send my deployment care packages to, I don’t know which aspect of our family’s military life Congress will trim next. His base pay? PTSD therapy for our friends? Spousal support if he’s killed overseas?

It’s hard to know which to be more frightened of, those unemployed, angry Taliban youths with IEDs and nothing to lose, or an American Congress which sends their war weary, underfunded veterans again and again to face them down while they’re breaking promises to us.

As the war enters its twelfth year (yes, take a moment for that to sink in), we’ve long surpassed most of our own expectations for how long this conflict would endure. After more than a decade in the Graveyard of Empires, Americans have redefined our definition of war as we struggle to justify the billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives disrupted, mutilated, ended.

Dwindling public support for the war coupled with a lack of national dialogue about it, no wonder military families feel evermore isolated and misunderstood. For most of us, victory from war now simply means having a loved one come home physically and mentally intact.

None of us are naïve enough to believe that military spending levels would remain high despite an ending war and shifting national priorities. Or that the military would remain a cause célèbre, to endlessly support and exult in a yellow ribbon wonderland. Yet, neither did those who joined up expect to have to endure wartime stresses while simultaneously defending themselves against a barrage of budget cuts to their family’s financial future.

It is disheartening to watch my husband put his life on the line while politicians play football with the retirement package he’s working so hard and risking so much to achieve.

The bipartisan budget deal encourages me that Congress has not lost its ability to work together for the benefit of all Americans. Yet, it leaves me terrified that these cuts to military earned benefits only serve as warnings of worse to come.

Sarah Chen is a freelance writer and spouse of an active duty Air Force pilot. She writes on raising Jewish kids, military family life and interfaith marriage. Her idea of perfection is reading in a hammock, eating breakfast tacos and walking her dog.

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