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Use funds from war economy for health care and education for all, says vet

On June 20, the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) and the Institute for Policy Studies held a 200-minute online program, the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington. One speaker was Christ Overfelt of the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors and the PPC-KC. Here is the talk Overfelt gave to the nation.

My name is Chris Overfelt, and I’m with Veterans for Peace and the Poor People’s Campaign.

I’d like to thank Chairman John Yarmuth (a US representative from Kentucky), Ranking Member Steve Womack (a US representative from Arkansas), and members of the committee for the opportunity to speak today. There’s not a day in my life that I’m not grateful to live under a representative government where I can voice my opinion and have my elected leaders listen. Thank you.

I want to preface my statement by saying that I’m not here to make you think a certain way. I am here to present a different side of the conversation, and you can take what I say, and decide what you think is right. It is vital to our democracy that we can disagree and still respect one another.

I was an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force National Guard. I was based at Forbes Field in Topeka, Kan., from 2002 to 2011.  I worked on the KC-135 aircraft, the airplane that refuels other planes in the air, and deployed to Turkey and Qatar during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Neither of these countries will likely recover from that devastation in my lifetime. Nothing I can ever do in my life will make up for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children killed in these useless wars. Since our invasion of these countries, terrorism has proliferated tenfold around the world.

When I joined the military, I had no idea that never in its history has the Department of Defense done an internal audit of its spending, despite it being mandated by law. It doesn’t know how much money it is spending, and it doesn’t know how it is spending it. It is a black hole for money. A 2016 Inspector General’s report revealed that over the past two decades, the Pentagon cannot account for how it spent 6.5 trillion dollars.

The Pentagon budget routinely accounts for over half of the federal discretionary budget. It is no secret that there is always enough money for more weapons and jails, and never enough for education and the poor. Instead of this money going to health care and education for our citizens who so desperately need it, it goes toward padding the pockets of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and the list goes on and on.

When I joined the military, I had no idea that the United States has over 800 military bases worldwide. Why do we keep such a strong presence throughout the world? It is not to keep the American people safe. The short answer is to provide western capital with continuous access to foreign resources and markets. Most of the military budget is used not to fight wars, but to exercise soft power in the support of American capital.

When I joined the military, I had no idea that all across the world, the United States supports fascist governments through military training and arms deals to ensure they serve the interests of foreign capital, and not the people they rule over. Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, the list goes on and on. I want to be clear, this does not make the American people safe. It makes us less safe.

When I left the military in 2011, I began substitute teaching in Kansas City and working at an agricultural mentorship program for young people. I’ve met people in our own country who have also suffered from these wars and the misplaced spending priorities that support them.

On my farm and in my classroom in Kansas City, I work with communities that are in direct need of funding. Instead of the health care, schools, and early childhood education programs young people in my area need, the only investment they get is a militarized police force and punitive mass incarceration programs. Some 39 percent of Missourians are poor or low-income, and Black residents are incarcerated at four times the rate of white residents.

We need to change the war economy and use those funds instead to provide health care and education to all people. In our Moral Budget, the Poor People’s Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies found that we could save $350 billion a year by redirecting our foreign policy away from war and militarism, closing our overseas bases, and refusing to subsidize military contractors. We could also cut up to 25 percent of the $179 billion spent on mass incarceration in the form of police, courts, and private contractors. All of these resources could be put back into communities all over the country, including the ones I work with in Kansas City. That would bring us real security, both here, and beyond our borders.

I’m Chris Overfelt. I’m a veteran, and I believe we need to work to stop funding systems of brutality and violence, and begin to fund systems of love that support everyone in our communities. Thank you.

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