Friday, 12 October 2012 00:00
We’re very good at paying homage to the men and women who have died in service to our country. We’re not as good at honoring those who come back alive, many of whom continue to pay a price after their return.
Several months ago, a survey of 4,200 members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that their top concern was unemployment (followed by mental health, disability benefits, health care and education). 17 percent reported that they were unemployed, a rate significantly higher than the official statistics. At the time of the survey, there was an official unemployment rate of 30.4 percent among veterans aged 18 to 24 and 48.0 percent for young black veterans.
Our armed forces draw disproportionately from parts of the American public that have been hit the hardest economically. Many are not doing well in the transition to the domestic job market. In that IAVA survey, 37 percent of respondents said they currently worked for some level of government. Permanent austerity is going to make things even tougher for many veterans and adding to their stress.
And 37 percent also said they knew someone either serving or who had been separated from the military who had committed suicide.
Our recent veterans can use a break more than most. In late September, 40 U.S. Senators refused to give them even a little one.
58 Senators, a clear majority, voted for the Veterans Job Corps bill, but the extra-Constitutional filibuster rules allowed Republicans to prevent passage. Five Republicans voted for the bill.
The Veterans Job Corps bill was loosely modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps that put so many young men to productive work building and expanding national parks and other projects in the 1930s. The Veterans Jobs Corps would spend $1 billion over five years to hire 20,000 young veterans to work tending public lands. Vets would also get a small leg up applying for jobs as first responders (police, firefighters, EMTs), and access to career advisors.
Senators held the legislation up on a technicality that was disputed by everyone else in the world. They said the bill violated “pay as you go” guidelines, but it was in fact funded by specific sources (mainly by recovering money from tax-delinquent Medicare providers). The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t paid for at all, weren’t even part of the budget during the Bush administration.
Some Senators gave strange explanations for voting against this bill. Senator Rand Paul said he was protesting the imprisonment of the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Bin Laden. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma simply declared that $1 billion over five years was too much money.
If you’re a defense contractor, then no amount of money is too much for you, nothing too expensive.
The bill was declared DOA by the leadership of the House of Representatives.
The explanations don’t hold water. The Senators themselves don’t believe them. President Obama mentioned the bill on the campaign trail, and that ensured that it would not be allowed to pass. Republicans would not let him have any perceived victory, even if everyone could take a bow. This is what we have come down to. Shame on us for allowing our government to be degraded to this extent. Shame.
Across the country, veterans get used as political props by politicians playing to their personal peanut galleries. Love the heroes in public, but afterwards do something different. In Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, voter suppression laws put on the books in the last few years don’t recognize official veteran photo cards issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs as valid identification for voting.
We now draw our forces from a tiny fraction of the public, some deployed over and over in wars that weren’t declared by our representatives and which require no sacrifice from anyone else. If our military no longer reflects some unifying goal or will of the American public, it’s like they are hired mercenaries. Dischargeble employees.
Out of sight, out of mind. Increasingly, out of luck.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org