Hundreds of thousands of veterans are coming home as our nation winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But too many of them are returning to poverty, homelessness, and levels of unemployment higher than that of the civilian population.
Yet programs that serve veterans are at risk as Congress considers strategies to cut our nation’s deficits. Under the debt ceiling deal reached last August, programs such as veteran training and employment services and housing for homeless vets will be automatically cut by 9.1 percent in January 2013 unless Congress acts. What’s more, many of our investments that spur job creation and ensure that struggling families can meet basic needs will take an equal hit, affecting veterans and nonveterans alike.
At the same time many in Congress are insisting we protect spending on defense programs that do nothing to enhance our national security—even if it means deeper cuts to veterans services and policies that strengthen the middle class. Are they really willing to keep funding for yet another nuclear missile—particularly given our existing arsenal’s tremendous size—when the same funding would prevent a big cut to job training for veterans?
The United States faces critical choices and trade-offs as it wrangles over the right way to cut its long-term deficits. We outline the budget trade-offs below between keeping funding for defense programs we don’t need or programs that help veterans and our middle class. 
There is a way forward. Without undermining our national security, we can reduce the unprecedented level of baseline defense spending and invest in growing our middle class here at home to build jobs and opportunity for veterans and nonveterans. We owe our returning heroes at least that much.
Melissa Boteach is Director of Half in Ten, Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow, and Alex Rothman is a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress.
- Defense in an Age of Austerity by Alex Rothman and Lawrence J. Korb
 Overall methodology for the veterans programs was to multiply the enacted fiscal year 2012 level (discounting any recovery or emergency spending) by 0.091 for an estimated sequester amount. The number on the fourth row is taken from Richard Kogan, “How Across-the-Board Cuts in the Budget Control Act Will Work” (Washington: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2011), available at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3635
 Lawrence Korb and Miriam Pemberton, “Report of the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States,” Foreign Policy in Focus, June 30, 2011, available at http://www.fpif.org/reports/unified_security_budget_fy2012
 Department of Defense, “Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 President’s Budget Submission”(2012), available at http://www.saffm.hq.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-120210-115.pdf
 Kristina Shevory, “More Veterans Receive Help With Heating Bills,” New York Times, January 19, 2011, available at http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/19/more-veterans-receive-help-with-heating-bills/
 Lawrence J. Korb, Laura Conley, and Alex Rothman, “Top 10 Fiscally Responsible Defense Cuts” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2012), available at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/02/pdf/responsible_defense_cuts.pdf
 Lawrence J. Korb and Sam Klug, “A Unified Security Budget: Shifting DOD Spending To Non-Military Security, Green Jobs & Deficit Reduction,” ThinkProgress, July 6, 2011, available at http://thinkprogress.org/security/2011/07/06/262128/a-unified-security-budget-shifting-dod-spending-to-non-military-security-green-jobs-deficit-reduction/
 Richard Kogan, “How the Across-the-Board Cuts in the Budget Control Act Will Work” (Washington: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 2011), available at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3635