SIERRA VISTA — The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a non-profit, has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the conservation groups fighting President Donald Trump’s use of military funding for the border wall.
IAVA is dedicated to the post-9/11 generation of service members, including those on active duty who served domestically or during other conflicts, spouses and dependents whose “diversity represents the full spectrum of political persuasions,” according to the brief.
The 450,000-strong membership seeks to protect the military bases at home and abroad which would have benefited from the billions of dollars appropriated for the wall, according to the brief filed on Oct. 21 with the Ninth U.S. District Court.
The diversion of those funds “endangers the well being of currently serving military members and their families and diminishes their quality of life. For that reason, IAVA opposes the diversion of military construction funding to the border wall.”
“IAVA will not opine about the merits of the national policy to build a border wall, the existence of a national emergency, or the constitutionality of the President’s declaration,” the brief states. “IAVA instead writes to provide its unique perspective on the impact of the President’s decision to divert funding from much-needed military construction projects. This diversion of funds to build a border wall exacerbates a longstanding military construction budget crunch, with profound consequences for military service members and families.”
“Those concerns became reality when on Sept. 4 the Pentagon released a list of military construction projects that are being deferred so that $3.6 billion in funding can be diverted to the border wall.
The projects being set aside would improve safety, quality of life, or work environment for military service members and their families—improvements that will not be made if the Administration’s diversion of funds is permitted to proceed.
“Putting aside the wisdom of the Administration’s policies at the Southern border, these decisions must not come at the expense of U.S. service members or their families.”
Attorneys representing IAVA are Mark Conrad, William Cooper and Courtney Assen with Conrad and Metlitzky, LLP.
Funding for military projects go through a long appropriation process, beginning with identifying the needs of base facilities.
The construction needs in each military branch pass through a multilayered chain of evaluation and prioritization before being submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The projects are further narrowed for funding to be requested. Congress then considers the appropriations.
By statute, no funds may be appropriated for military construction “unless specifically authorized by law,” which can be a many–year process as the projects make their way through the legislative steps, going out to bid, contracting and finally construction, they noted.
“Even for the highest-priority projects, it can take three or more years before an identified need makes it into a budget request, and years longer for congressional authorization and appropriations, implementation of the federal contracting process, and the physical construction of the project,” the brief states.
“The perpetual problem of underfunded military construction exacerbated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was passed to avert a government shutdown and has been amended in response to subsequent budget impasses.”
The brief also states the military should not be used for political motivations.
“Our American heroes, who have already sacrificed so much, should not bear these costs of the political dispute over building the wall. Diverting defense funds to the border threatens the safety of service members and diminishes their quality of work and life. Even the limited publicly available information shows the administration’s planned funding diversions place service members in harm’s way. These consequences begin at home, where service members at U.S. military bases keep the world’s greatest fighting force ready to face an array of complex threats.”
The Trump administration has said the projects are not cancelled, only delayed, although a final determination will rest with Congress, which must reappropriate the funds that have been diverted to border projects.
Attorneys also pointed out the loss of $30 million to Ft. Huachuca, a critical training site, means “cancellation of construction projects for maintenance buildings” that date as far back as the 1930s and no longer meet “Army standards for military vehicle testing and maintenance, requiring service members to work in unsafe facilities that jeopardize personnel health, security and safety.”
They go on to say the diversion of funds should be cancelled and restored by the court to allow the Department of Defense “to get this much-needed military construction back on track.”
The Sierra Club welcomes support
“This is important statement of support from the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. It shows that the troops are the ones who should be receiving funding from the Department of Defense, not Donald Trump’s 20 billion dollar vanity wall,” said Dan Mills, Borderlands Program Coordinator.
Since the president has claimed the funds for security issues only a wall can deliver, there has been a “literal military takeover of public lands along the border, including the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The land was recently transferred to the Department of the Army. These are our public lands, and they should not be militarized,” Mills said.
The Sierra Club supports former and active military service men and women and started a Military Outdoors Program on the Borderlands Team, he added.
“More than 125 military construction projects such as clinics and schools on bases have been delayed or cancelled in order to build pointless counterproductive and environmentally harmful border walls. Donald Trump’s actions on the border and his abuse of US troops is inexcusable and the harm will be permanent.”