Didn't send your kid to war? Maybe you can send $$

Thursday - 7/5/2012, 3:11am EDT

By PAULINE JELINEK
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - 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 fundraising. 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 his wife, Laurie, and Jim Stimmel, CLEAResult's executive vice president, and his 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.

The five organizations are:

  • Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), with some 200,000 members, provides health, education, employment and community programs for America's newest generation of veterans.

  • Operation Mend provides lifelong medical help, reconstructive surgery and mental health assistance for critically injured and severely disfigured active and retiring service members and veterans. It's a partnership between Brooke Army Medical Center, a leading burn and rehabilitation center in San Antonio, Texas; the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System; and UCLA Health System.

  • Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors provides peer support and other help to anyone grieving the death of someone in the military.

  • Operation Homefront provides emergency financial help to active-duty service members and the wounded, such as food boxes or gift certificates for food and rent-free housing for the wounded after their homecoming and while they await veteran's compensation.

  • National Military Family Association works for benefits and programs that help the families of active-duty service members.

With the Fourth of July celebration approaching, the fundraisers held a news conference with one of the five organizations, 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- to 24-year-olds are 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.