Awaiting Congressional Authorization, War-Worn Army Stands By

February 12, 2015 Updated: February 19, 2015

The day after President Barack Obama formally asked Congress to authorize military force against the ISIL Islamic terrorist group, he signed a veterans suicide prevention bill.

The two are related. America has been in armed conflict for nearly all of the 21st century, and an all-volunteer military has borne the burden.

If Congress agrees to the use of military force against ISIL, it will be the first time it has signed off on a new military authorization since 2002.

In 2002, Congress gave President George W. Bush permission to take action against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and that permission is still in effect.

Obama’s draft proposal would end the Iraq authorization and replace it with a time-limited, three-year mandate to “to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground instead of large-scale deployments of U.S. ground forces.”

The draft specifies that it will not “authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

The president appears to recognize that the military has been overextended for more than a decade, and the nation lacks an appetite for war, preferring instead to focus on the homeland.

Military Downsizing

The military was and is planning a reduction in force.

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were ending, and some service members with 15 years of service are being offered the chance to retire early with full benefits, as if they had 20 years of service, Army Times reported.

Yet the idea of boots on the ground against ISIL raises the question: Will our military always be at war? Will service members keep going on multiple deployments?

It is not clear if Congress will accept Obama’s request. It is not clear, if they do accept, just how limited the combat role of American troops against ISIL will be.

What is clear is that ISIL cannot be ignored.

As Obama’s resolution stated: “The terrorist organization that has referred to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and various other names … poses a grave threat to the people and territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, regional stability, and the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners.”

Taking Care of Vets

Whatever happens, America must take care of its veterans.

The legislation Obama signed Thursday is meant to reduce the high rate of suicide that is claiming the lives of soldiers and former members of the military by the day.

“If you are hurting, know this. You are not forgotten,” Obama said as he prepared to affix his signature to the law amid a rare bipartisan gathering at the White House.

The law, which had broad support from Republicans and Democrats, requires the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department to submit to independent reviews of their suicide prevention programs and make information on suicide prevention more easily available to veterans.

The law also offers financial incentives to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who agree to work for the VA and assist military members as they transition from active duty to veteran status.

A 2013 VA study reported that veterans were committing suicide at a rate of 22 a day in 2010, with nearly 70 percent of them being 50 years old or older. The incidents of post-traumatic stress among soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have also attracted widespread attention.

“Too many of our troops and veterans are still struggling,” Obama said. “They are recovering from injuries; they are mourning fallen comrades; they’re trying to reconnect with family and friends who can never fully understand what they went through in war theater.”

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.