Friday, May 18, 2007

The National Journals Congress Daily Article on the Quest for a Cold War Medal

Megan ScullyDefense reporter

National Journal's CongressDaily


A Little Recognition, Please. Veterans who served during the 46 years of the last "Long War" fought by the United States want the government to say "thank you." For eight years, veterans of the Cold War have been lobbying for a medal commemorating their military service, over staunch objections from Pentagon officials. They hope they got one step closer Thursday, when the House passed the FY08 defense authorization bill containing language sponsored by Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., that would require the Pentagon to issue the medal.

It may not sound like much of a gesture, but that "thank you," according to the Defense Department, could cost as much as $250 million -- at a time when the military services say they need billions of dollars to cover urgent needs in their latest extended war, the one on terrorism. But supporters of the medal scoff at that estimate, saying the cost would be closer to $11 million, largely because only 5 percent of the 24 million veterans eligible would actually apply for it. Earlier this week, CBO projected that 3 million, or 12.5 percent, of the 24 million Cold War vets would claim the medal at a cost to taxpayers of $32 million. Besides citing the cost, the Pentagon has opposed awarding the medal, arguing that it would be duplicative for many veterans who received other commemorations, backers of the medal say. While Pentagon opposition is expected again, efforts to obtain comment on this week's House action were unsuccessful.

Cold War vets have been down this road before. Indeed, almost every year since 1999, at least the House or Senate has passed the language authorizing the medal, which would replace a Cold War Recognition Certificate that has been awarded to any federal employee who worked for the government during the Cold War. "A postal employee can get that certificate," sniffed Frank Tims, national legislative director for the Cold War Veterans Association. This rather generic award is signed by the Defense secretary, but includes no other mention of the military or the Defense Department. It simply reads: "In recognition of your service during the period of the Cold War (2 September 1945 -- 26 December 1991) in promoting peace and stability for this Nation, the people of this Nation are forever grateful."

Tims and Andrews, who is fighting this battle at the behest of veterans in his district, aren't going to surrender. They know a similar campaign for the medal is being waged in the Senate by presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a colleague on the committee. Tims, who compared the cost of the medals to the billions wasted in contracting in Iraq, said veterans deserve "the recognition that what they did was important to our national defense over a fairly long period of time." Andrews said the cost of the medals pales in comparison to the value of the veterans' service. "The United States would be a very different place today if the Soviet Union was still a viable, active military force," Andrews said.

-- by Megan Scully