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Congress must support programs to prepare young people for military service

Now that Congress has funded the government for the remainder of the fiscal year and prevented another government shutdown, we must turn our attention to future budget needs and re-evaluate spending caps that threaten our national security.

As a former lieutenant general in the U.S. Army with more than 35 years of service, I know that the strength of our military, and our nation, is dependent on the strength of our people. In particular I am deeply concerned that 71 percent of young people ages 17 to 24 nationwide, cannot qualify for military service because they are too poorly educated, medically or physically unfit, or have a disqualifying record of crime or drug abuse.

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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael A. Vane, who now lives in Shaver Lake. Contributed

The implications of this recruitment crisis were underscored last year when the Army fell short of its 2018 recruiting goal by 6,500 soldiers. Further, in 2018 the Army missed its end-strength goal for the active duty component by almost 7,500 soldiers, and the Army National Guard and Army Reserve missed their end strength goals by 8,000 and 9,000 soldiers, respectively. The shortage of qualified young people who are willing to serve will continue to erode the strength of our military, unless we address the root causes now.

That’s why I recently joined nearly 350 of my fellow retired generals and admirals in sending a letter to all members of Congress urging them to develop a federal budget that provides balanced investments in both defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs.

Non-defense discretionary programs play a vital role in supporting our national security by contributing directly to the health, education, and development of the next generation. This includes the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which helps low-income families afford child care. Research shows that access to quality child care has significant positive impacts on children’s social, cognitive, and physical development.

Head Start and Early Head Start, which are also NDD programs, help children from low-income families access early learning opportunities and become prepared for kindergarten. Studies have found that Head Start participants gain long-term educational benefits, including increased rates of high school graduation.

The sequestration cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 pose a direct threat to the effectiveness of these and other key NDD programs. Without a new budget agreement from Congress, NDD funding will be cut by $55 billion compared to fiscal year 2019. These cuts would severely undermine the ability of programs like CCDBG, Head Start, and Early Head Start to serve children and put them on the path toward productive citizenship.

Last year, Congress worked in a bipartisan fashion to pass a two-year budget agreement that avoided sequestration cuts, provided key new investments for important programs, and did so in a balanced manner that strengthened both defense and NDD activities. I strongly urge our leaders to follow this example for the coming fiscal years and avoid the drastic cuts of sequestration, while maintaining a balanced approach to setting discretionary budget levels.

Providing for the common defense is one of the most fundamental and important constitutional duties of Congress. By providing balanced investments across both defense and non-defense discretionary programs, Congress will continue to ensure our national security, both now and for generations to come.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Vane formerly commanded Fort Bliss in Texas during his long Army career. He lives in Shaver Lake.