The sports world marked Veterans Day with an array of camouflage and flag-themed uniforms, football helmets, stadium tributes, and supportive messages for current and former members of America’s military, but in San Antonio, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took the tribute one step farther. Instead of simply honoring the sacrifices veterans have made for the country, Popovich, himself an Air Force vet, asked why the country doesn’t support its veterans in more tangible ways — not only through tributes and flag-waving but by supporting the assistance programs on which many of them rely.
“In a lot of ways, it’s a joyous day if we all remember to honor people,” Popovich said, according to USA Today. “But in some ways, it’s a sad day because (soldiers and veterans) don’t really get honored the way they should be. Some of it is just pablum. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of what they need, they’re really not getting everything.
“Just like the way it is right now – how many vets might have to do without food stamps because of what’s going on with the government right now? That program is huge to a lot of these families. I mean huge. It gets them through. And it may or may not be there – who knows? – because government is not very functional at this point, as we all know. So it’s a day to reflect, to honor but also to not lose sight of the fact that a whole lot more has to be done with what they’ve done for all of us.”
Congress allowed an expansion to the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, to lapse at the beginning of November. The answer to Popovich’s question about how many veterans that would affect? Roughly 900,000, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That means the program, which already provides just $133 a month, will cut benefits by anywhere from $11 a month for single recipients to $36 a month for families. After that cut, its benefits will average $1.40 a day.
And that’s not all. There’s a massive veterans disability benefits backlog that the October government shutdown only made worse, meaning many vets who have come home from wars ravaged by injuries and mental health problems can’t aren’t receiving services. The automatic budget cuts that went into effect at the beginning of 2013 and will continue over the coming years, meanwhile, have meant less funding for veterans assistance programs and research at universities and the National Institutes of Health, where scientists are exploring ways to better treat combat-related concussions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other injuries. That has also cut other basic poverty programs on which veterans rely, since they are disproportionately likely to live below the poverty line or in homelessness. All of that has only made already-existing problems worse.
There’s no problem with the sports world honoring veterans in the ways it does, though it sometimes results in clueless corporate promotions and inappropriate sartorial choices. Still, it’s nice to hear a reminder from inside that world that honoring the troops and veterans’ sacrifices isn’t just about waving a flag or holding up a placard at a football game. It’s about actually taking care of them when they get home too.