September will be a momentous month, either in the right or wrong direction. Congress will soon take up votes on repealing outdated authorizations for use of military force, or AUMFs, which provide statutory authority for military operations in the Middle East.

It’s fitting that these AUMFs are up for repeal as we approach and reflect on the anniversary of Sept. 11, a catalyst event that propelled the United States to war in the greater Middle East more than 20 years ago.

Over the past two decades, U.S. involvement in conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan have rung up an unimaginably high toll.

The cost of the Global War on Terror has reached over $5.8 trillion just for the war operations themselves. These numbers just skim the surface.

It’s not simply the direct cost of executing war. It’s the cost affecting the fabric of our communities for generations after decades of war.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has seen a new wave of post-9/11 veterans with needs unique to their wars. The VA budget has increased four-fold since 2000 to $325 billion requested for fiscal year 2024. That is $25 billion from just the previous year. The cost of care for post-9/11 veterans is estimated to soar up to an astonishing $2.5 trillion by 2050, even as the overall number of veterans the VA serves is declining.

Some 40 percent of post-9/11 veterans have some form of disability rating with the VA so far and receive dollars and/or services for their injuries. PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are the defining injuries of these wars, leading to stunningly high suicide ratesdrug use and homelessness. Estimates suggest four times more GWOT veterans have died of suicide than died in combat.

The physical injuries come with their own set of challenges, including the need for treatment aids like prosthetics, service animals and adaptive homes. All the while, veterans exposed to toxins and burn pits on their deployments are coping with cancers and illnesses they’d never have imagined they’d be plagued with.

None of the above makes the transition out of service any easier.

Like Americans always do, we’ve risen to the challenge to care for veterans and meet their needs.

Veterans organizations all over the country do their best to ensure veterans have what they need to thrive in post-service life. But that noble work copes with the symptoms of congressional malaise — the legislature’s persistent unwillingness to make tough, responsible decisions about military engagement.

AUMFs are used by Congress to authorize military action as an alternative to declaring war. While the intention may be good, overly broad poorly written AUMFs can evolve into instruments that perpetuate the cycle of conflict if not subject to proper oversight. The AUMFs up for repeal are a prime example.

The 1957, 1991 and 2002 AUMFs each authorized some form of engagement in the Middle East — combatting communism through security assistance and authorizing operations in the first and second Iraq Wars, respectively. None of these AUMFs are the sole authority for any ongoing operations, yet they remain a potentially abusable back door to conflict without a congressional vote.

Multiple presidents and military leaders have leaned on open AUMFs to justify actions outside the original intention of the authorizations. These operations can have dire consequences such as the devastating attack on Special Forces operators in Niger in 2017. Keeping AUMFs on the books just leaves the door open for more long-term deployments to all reaches of the globe to fight enemies that don’t threaten core national interests.

Unfortunately, Congress just lets this happen. After all, the AUMFs were voted on at some point, right? Why take on the hard work and burden of scrutinizing whether existing AUMFs are still appropriate or whether troops need to be sent to war?

The blunt answer is because millions still bear the hidden costs of war and thousands of men and women have died in defense of the Constitution that requires it.

I served in the Army and Navy for 22 years. I saw friends die on the battlefield and witnessed their struggles when they came home. I have dealt with my own health problems and read too many stories and accounts of veterans who take their own lives daily.

Those of us who served are more than just numbers and statistics. We are the tip of the spear who live the consequences of our leaders’ decisions. The least Congress can do is honor our oath to the Constitution by debating and voting on matters of war. If a situation arises that requires military action, Congress can address it at that point, not just rely on blank check authorization to get them out of doing their job.

I urge members of Congress to reclaim their constitutional responsibility and shut the open doors that are the 1957, 1991 and 2002 AUMFs through repeal.

Jason Beardsley is director of veterans’ initiatives at Stand Together and special advisor at Concerned Veterans for America. He is a 22-year veteran of the United States Army and Navy.

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