Justin EllenbeckerPJALS member and disabled veteran Justin Ellenbecker placed this powerful Guest Editorial in the Spokesman-Review on Saturday, May 11.

The discussion over what to do with the budget has been blanketing newspapers and airwaves for quite some time now. Several plans are jockeying to see how much we can cut without amputating some large portion of the voting public. As a combat veteran, I’m aware of the difficulty in making triage decisions. This is why I now fight to make sure all veterans receive the lifelines they need. Preserving and strengthening Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and care for returning service members needs to be a top priority.

While serving in Iraq, I suffered injuries that forced me to leave the line of work I’d trained for. Since my return, I’ve worked with supportive networks to counsel returning service members who, like me, have physical and mental health issues. One of the chief concerns that veterans raise is the ability to care for themselves and their families now, and in the future.

Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress are pushing budgets that directly attack the programs that Americans’ lives depend on: Medicare and Medicaid. Now, the president wants to weaken Social Security. All of this is in the guise of deficit reduction.

There’s no need to slash these programs, which help drive our economy, generate jobs and deliver health care to millions, including tens of thousands of veterans. Republicans in Congress are talking about raising the eligibility age for Medicare, shifting more costs to the states and asking enrollees to incur higher costs. The president seeks to institute “chained CPI,” which amounts to trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors who cannot keep pace with inflation.

Cuts like these will have devastating results. They could mean seniors losing nursing home care, women missing breast cancer treatments and children going without asthma medications. The majority of today’s working and middle class veterans who have made tremendous personal sacrifices for our county would also suffer from these cuts.

Yet, while Republicans are intent on shifting the economic burden to the middle class, they continue to resist asking wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share. Our local mom and pop shops pay a significantly higher percentage in corporate tax rates than those that prioritize job creation in other nations.

They are also resisting cuts to Pentagon spending and, yes, these issues are related.

The Pentagon budget is bloated and unbalanced. Executive salaries for defense contractors rival those of the richest Wall St. chief executive officers. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Technologies, and Northrop Grumman CEOs were each paid more than $22 million in 2011. Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman, made $26.4 million in 2011 alone.

As we end two wars and fight to get our economy back on track, reductions to what can only be called massive Pentagon spending must be a central part of the deficit reduction conversation. By drawing down Pentagon spending, rethinking our strategy and right-sizing our military – – all of which can be done without putting our troops in harm’s way – we can deal with our debt and get to work fixing our schools, our roads and our health care system.

Defense-related spending, including debt service, accounts for nearly half of all federal spending. We spend more on the Pentagon than the next top 16 countries combined – most of which are our allies! The United States accounts for more than 40 percent of all global defense spending just by itself.

Rather than demanding more from everyday people, why aren’t we talking about reducing the Pentagon budget? Relatively modest cuts in Pentagon spending – cuts that even top military officials agree will have no impact on defense readiness – could eliminate any need for reductions in earned benefits programs like Medicare and Social Security.

This is why public investments in our health, seniors and veterans are good investments. The working men and women of America and our many veterans must not be forgotten, shorted or slighted by our Congressional leadership and president. It’s time our leaders listen to the needs of their constituents – before it’s too late.

Justin Ellenbecker is a member of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. He served in the U.S. Army for five years, and was medically discharged for injuries received during his year in Iraq.