The American Legion’s national commander in Lawrence on Thursday said he urged Congress to refrain from further budget cuts that would affect veterans benefits and defense spending.
“Our problem is how to convince people to be on our side to support what we need so that we don’t get hurt,” Commander Fang Wong told about 40 members of Dorsey-Liberty No. 14, 3408 W. Sixth St., and the post’s auxiliary.
Wong spent recent days speaking at 20 area posts. An Army Vietnam veteran who lives in East Brunswick, N.J., Wong was elected to a one-year term as national commander Sept. 1. He spoke extensively about lobbying Congress on helping veterans find jobs, defense spending, and medical and retirement benefits for veterans.
Wong, who has testified before a congressional committee, said he and his staff were hopeful a bipartisan “super committee” seeking to reach consensus before Nov. 23 to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over 10 years would not make cuts to veterans benefits and defense spending.
“At this point it’s our belief that we’re already at the bone level,” Wong said. “We really can’t afford to be further cut in any area.”
He said Congress faced a difficult fiscal situation, but Wong, who retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer in 1989, said further Department of Defense spending cuts could dramatically hamper the country’s ability to respond to any future military crises.
“Every time in our history when we do that, we get in trouble,” he said, “because that means our readiness will go down, and our equipment. Everything is just not there.”
Wong also said the legion would not support changes to military retirement system in favor of a 401(k) style system because he said military positions, particularly combat positions, are radically different from private sector jobs.
“You’re 24-7 on duty. You’re constantly deployed, separated from your family,” he said. “You’re constantly going overseas to God-knows-where. People shoot at you. Service to the country is an honor. If people are willing to stay and put their lives on the line on our behalf, we need to take care of them.”
Wong, who was originally born in China and immigrated to the United States as a 12-year-old boy in 1960, also worried that as more veterans return home from Afghanistan and Iraq, Veterans Affairs services will be more in demand to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.
“If we spent the money now and do the right thing and get them jobs, then they will be taxpayers. They will pay revenue into the government to help this government,” he said, “instead of being on the other side of the ledger.”