Last May, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) filed an amicus brief in the border wall litigation – El Paso v. Trump – on behalf of military service members. In that brief, IAVA implored the court not to let our military once again bear the brunt of Washington, DC infighting. IAVA argued that President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration might result in the diversion of funds to the border wall that would significantly and negatively impact quality of life for military service members and their families.
This week, the Pentagon released a partial list of the $3.6 billion in military construction projects that will be canceled in order to fund the border wall. IAVA’s warning in May about the impact of President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration was right. The diversion of these funds will cancel 127 projects, many or all of which would have improved quality of life at work or home for military service members and their families.
The canceled projects might have improved the lives of military service members and their families in a large array of different ways. There are easily identifiable losses to military families, such as multiple daycare, elementary, middle and high school construction projects. There are also projects that would provide (or improve) important resources that our troops currently need, like Crash/Rescue Stations, which are necessary to respond to accidents or injuries in training, and operating facilities for U.S. forces who are helping hedge against the threat from Russia in Eastern Europe.
All of these construction projects are important and necessary. Military construction takes years to be approved and there is a long queue of projects that have been passed over in favor of these now-canceled projects. Even mundane “facilities improvement funds” are sorely needed as defense infrastructure continues to age. As anyone in any profession who has worked in a dilapidated office environment and then moved to a more modern facility would know: where you work can significantly impact your quality of life.
When I was stationed abroad as a newly-minted judge advocate in Okinawa, on camps with decades-old dilapidated infrastructure, there was a constant need for military construction to improve our working conditions. Condemned buildings languish for years on military bases without attention – some occupied and some unoccupied. Back home in Virginia, I lived in a building in Quantico when I did my entry-level training for a year that had been condemned due to visible black mold, among other reasons. Because sufficient replacement housing had not yet been constructed, the best we could do was joke about needing to complete training quickly in order to get out of the situation alive. Military service members are used to working in crumbling facilities and living in substandard housing, but they deserve better.
Over the course of the legal and political decision-making related to the border wall thus far, service members, veterans and their families have already been disproportionately negatively impacted. Last winter, when political negotiations about the border wall resulted in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, service members and veterans bore the brunt of the cost.
The government shutdown had grave impacts on American veterans and active duty members of the U.S. Coast Guard. One third of the federal workforce are veterans. Of those veterans, about 155,000 were employed by agencies directly affected by the government shutdown. They missed multiple paychecks, creating financial instability for themselves and their families. The entire active duty Coast Guard (about 41,000 men and women) missed their paychecks during this time as well. IAVA’s own masters-level case managers – the Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP) – experienced a massive influx of interest in our services prompted by shutdown-based outreach from veterans during this time.
Resolution of the government shutdown and ensuing negotiations between the President and Congressional leadership during early February 2019 did not result in significant border wall funding. Rather than abiding by Congress’ appropriations (or seeking to find the funding elsewhere), the Trump Administration is again taxing the well-being of military service members and their families.
IAVA takes no position about whether the United States should have a border wall. IAVA is a nonpartisan non-profit devoted to representing the interests of the post-9/11 generation of veterans, with 425,000 members comprised mostly of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. IAVA’s membership unsurprisingly has a diverse set of political viewpoints. Many military service members and veterans are strong supporters of the Administration’s policies, including regarding a border wall. Nevertheless, IAVA remains concerned about the impacts of this funding plan for service members and their families. The veterans community will rally behind their own when those Americans who already sacrifice on behalf of our nation are asked to make further sacrifices for the sake of policies that are not directly related to their missions.