WASHINGTON — If you have military-age children who have not served in this decade’s wars, then you owe a debt — meaning money — to those who did. That’s the premise of a new fundraising effort by three wealthy American families who want to help U.S. veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Every non-military family should give something, they said. The affluent should give large sums. No one should think of it as charity, but rather a moral obligation, an alternative way to serve, perhaps the price of being spared the anxiety that comes with having a loved one in a war zone.
“We have three able-bodied, wonderful, wonderful children, all of whom are devoted to doing very, very good things around social justice; and we could not be more proud of them,” said Philip Green, a local businessman who devised the fundraising idea. “We’re also delighted that none of them had to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Green says he and his wife came to look at that as unfair: “I realized that there were parents just like me down the street, down the block … who did not have that luxury” and were suffering sleepless nights and anxiety, “which I was able to avoid.”
Green, president of health care consultancy PDG Consulting, and his wife Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs, head of geriatrics at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, teamed with two other couples to start the fund-raising. Together, they donated a total of $1.1 million. Contributing with Green and Cobbs were Glenn Garland, head of Texas-based CLEAResult energy consultancy, and wife, Laurie, and Jim Stimmel, CLEAResult’s executive vice president, and wife, Patty.
They hope to raise $30 million for five organizations they say are among the best at providing medical, financial and other help to veterans, active duty troops and their families. With the Fourth of July celebration approaching, they held a news conference with one of the five organizations, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
“Millions of Americans and their families have sacrificed so much in the conflicts and they have such needs,” Stimmel said. “By contrast, so many affluent Americans have not made a commensurate sacrifice; and they should.”
The issue of unequal national sacrifice has been a recurring theme during current and past conflicts and it always touches on at least two questions: Who serves in America and who doesn’t? What’s the responsibility of those who don’t?
Most people aren’t interested in joining the military. A recent Pentagon survey shows only 18 percent of American youths say they’ll definitely or probably join, very low compared to decades ago. The culture surrounding service was transformed in part by the end of conscription and mandatory service.
“Clearly, young people would prefer to be doing other things,” said Beth Asch, a senior economist at RAND Corporation who specializes in defense manpower issues.
The military also doesn’t want most Americans. It says 75 percent of the target recruit-age population of 17-24 year-olds is unqualified due to health problems (mostly related to obesity), drug or alcohol histories, or too little education (no high school diploma).
In the end, the Pentagon says it has assembled an armed force pretty much mirroring the society it defends. That is, major racial and ethnic groups make up about the same percentage of the military as they do the society at large. The same goes for income, with one exception, Asch says: “The 20 percent (of society) with the lowest income are the least likely to serve.” They’re generally unqualified due to lower education and aptitude ratings. Recruits from neighborhoods where the average household income is over $100,000 also are rare, making up roughly 3 percent of the total, studies have shown.
Asch believes that not requiring all qualified people to serve makes the system inherently unfair. That today’s force is all-volunteer takes some of the edge off of that but doesn’t speak to inequity.
The families starting the new fundraising noted their lack of service.
Stimmel and Green didn’t go to Vietnam; their sons and daughters didn’t join the military during the latest conflicts. Green was disqualified during Vietnam because of health issues. Stimmel never was called because he drew a high number in that era’s draft lottery. Garland watched older friends go and come home unappreciated and says he now has enormous appreciation for military families.