Gun Monkey Coffee Company's response to Washington Post editorial on veteran benefits

The Washington Post’s moral compass is broken

To the Editors of The Washington Post from Thomas Hoban, owner and operator of Gun Monkey Coffee Company:

The Washington Post Editorial Board has displayed its broken moral compass and bewildering ignorance of veteran benefits and their post-war injuries in its April 3, 2023, editorial, titled: “Veterans deserve support. But one benefit program deserves scrutiny.”

First, let’s address where The Post’s argument is logically weak: Veterans who return to the workforce contribute taxes from the wages they earn, which in turn helps the state and federal governments fill their coffers. The Post somehow neglected factor in this basic calculation when it throws out big-budget figures on how much it costs to support veterans, implying that they don’t also pay back into the system once they re-enter the workforce. Many veterans work for government agencies directly supporting national security efforts. How do you put a cost on the skills and knowledge these veterans learned on the battlefield to continue to keep our nation safe?

These benefits were earned because veterans made the ultimate sacrifice: Our bodies and minds were broken to protect this country. Civilians don’t carry the burden of warriors. We do. The Post's moral compass seems to point toward the bottom line of a balance sheet rather than toward the men and women who put themselves in harm's way for the freedoms that the writers of The Post's Editorial Board enjoy.

Second, The Post misrepresented the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, implying that veterans are stuffing their pockets full of cash. The editorial states: “The Congressional Budget Office estimates limiting payments for veterans who earn more than $170,000 a year would save $253 billion over the next decade.” It directs readers to a basic summary of the CBO’s assessment on, when it should direct them to the actual recommendations from the CBO, where the agency states: "CBO estimates that reducing or eliminating VA disability benefits for households whose gross household income exceeded the threshold would lower mandatory spending by $253 billion between 2023 and 2032 relative to CBO's baseline.” Notice the big difference?

It’s not just veterans who would get their benefits cut. It’s their households — their gross household income. This means if the spouse of the veteran is a successful career professional, the family’s financial health would suffer. They would go to a single-income household and eliminate the opportunity for that veteran to financially contribute to the family. The Post’s failure to research the CBO’s analysis is journalistically irresponsible and lazy. It should issue a correction to its readers to set the record straight.

The editorial states that the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs has ballooned from $45 billion in 2001 to $300 billion this year. Well, there’s a good reason for that: Since 2001, we sent between 1.9 million and 3 million service members to fight in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these men and women served more than one tour, coming back with physical and mental injuries. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that twenty years of warfare would increase the VA’s budget. The Post’s Editorial Board itself advocated for the invasion of Iraq, but curiously neglected to tell its readers when writing this editorial. The Post seems fine with sounding the drumbeats for war, but gets fiscally shy when it comes to paying for it.

In addition, I find it odd for journalists at a publication such as The Washington Post to be so oblivious of the advancement of science and study of service-related injuries when it states that “the skill sets needed in jobs today” are “different from those needed in the months and years after World War II.” We may not be using our bodies as laborers, but that doesn’t mean our injuries also don’t apply to the modern office environment. In fact, I’m glad that we’ve advanced as a nation to understand how to identify and treat these “array of service-connected injuries and disabilities,” and veterans are finally getting the treatment and benefits they deserve for sacrificing their minds and bodies.

I was one of the hundreds of thousands of service members who deployed to Afghanistan. I now receive disability benefits as a result of injuries sustained during the war — but I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Like my friends and fellow service members, I have trouble sleeping as a result of reoccurring nightmares. Imagine getting three hours of sleep every night, and expected to perform, as The Post describes it, “in an information and service economy.” The Post’s Editorial Board assumes the digital age has somehow made it easier for veterans with PTSD to sit behind a computer and pretend they didn’t witness death, dismemberment and rape during their deployment. The concept of PTSD only came into the public consciousness 35 years after the VA established disability benefits, as The Post claims. Think about all of the misdiagnosed and misunderstood trauma that could have saved veteran lives, and allowed them to claim benefits for injuries unseen. The Post’s argument that veterans are lining their pockets full of disability cash assumes that these injuries are somehow arbitrary — that they don’t affect the ability to work and actually limit us in job opportunities in the first place.

On the surface, you would never know I am suffering. But every day, like many other veterans, I am white-knuckling through the wear and tear on my body. Some of us can’t stand more than 30 minutes without pain. We may look like we’re in good shape, but many of us are broken. Even after being out of the military for eight years, I still need physical therapy for my feet, hips, lower and upper back, and my neck. I know that my injuries will become even worse as I age.

The tinnitus in both of my ears sounds like I am sitting in a field full of buzzing locusts. This tinnitus is a direct result of not having the proper ear pro when firing a belt-fed weapons system through training and deployment. There are still more than 200,000 veterans who are suing 3M over the ear plugs it issued during the war, claiming that they were defective. I wore those ear plugs, too. Trust me, they did no good.

Researchers have determined that there is a direct link between tinnitus and anxiety, and one triggers the other. Any loud setting with commotion, like visiting a grocery store on a busy Saturday afternoon or a busy office environment, is like entering a torture chamber. Civilians take this all for granted.

These injuries may not be seen to you, but they are every bit as real to me. The monthly stipend you describe as inflated ensures I am able to support myself and my family once my injuries completely cripple me.

But perhaps one of the most befuddling and disturbing arguments made by The Post is to highlight that more veterans receive benefits now because of “improved battlefield medicine,” as if implying more dead services members would have resulted in a more balanced budget for our nation. Yes, more service members lived. And I’m glad that they did. We should all be thankful that our daughters, mothers, sons and fathers came home alive.

Perhaps, then, The Post’s fiscal worries about our country may be comforted by the fact that in 2020, more than 6,000 veterans committed suicide. After all, if we’re treating veterans as dollar signs, then it seems The Post’s sinister philosophy would agree that every dead veteran is a step in the financial security of our nation.

The Post’s Editorial Board has no business judging the moral obligations for veterans when it cannot understand the basic value of a human life.

In fact, we still have a long way to go treating veterans and their mental health — and a monetary compensation is the least we can do to make sure they support themselves and what they sacrificed for this country.

Thomas Hoban
Former Army NCO with the 10th Mountain Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team (3BCT)
Owner, Gun Monkey Coffee Company

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