A Special Commentary
By VCS Advocate and Truman Fellow Christopher Miller
Despite a decade of discussion and advocacy, testimonials by politicians, and t-shirts and bumper stickers displayed everywhere, American veterans continue to struggle and pay for their sacrifice on behalf of the nation. Seldom does one meet someone who does not profess respect and admiration for those who served. Yet the statistics and struggles of America’s veterans, highlighted today by those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, tell another story. America is not doing well by its veterans.
Unemployment among veterans remains consistently above the national average by many measures, sometimes doubling or tripling it in certain categories. The fact that veterans are struggling to find employment is one of the few points Congress and President Obama agree and have taken some positive action on. The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to bear the brunt of veterans’ frustrations. Their case is not being helped by bipartisan agreement among the heads of both the House and Senate Veteran’s Affairs committees that they’ll have to meet growing demand and issues with a flat budget. Despite positive veteran employment efforts by private firms, the private sector continues to be an unfriendly place for vets.
The GI Bill is one of the most successful government education and employment programs in history, making America’s post-WWII workforce the most educated in the world. But some for-profit universities are taking advantage of veterans today. Many young veterans coming home are wisely trying to increase their chances of finding employment using the Post-9/11 GI Bill in record numbers. Veterans’ emails, mailboxes, and social networking pages are deluged with ads from for-profit universities and calls from recruiters working on commission using questionable techniques. Many programs cost much more than at community colleges, won’t be accepted by industry, or won’t be accepted for transfer credit. The culprit seems to be the ‘90/10 rule’, which allows for-profit colleges to sign up nine civilian students for every one servicemember or veteran enrolled, thus the emphasis on veterans. Instead of benefitting vets, this taxpayer money is lining the pockets of some for-profit colleges. Unfortunately, the industry is backed by some financial heavyweights that have allies in Congress.
Homelessness among veterans has always been a problem and continues to be one for America’s newest generation. As much as one quarter of all homeless have served in the military. VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki has vowed to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015 and there are positive indications. The rate dropped by 12% in the last year. But there are still over 60,000 veterans without a home in America. The problem is increasing among female veterans, many of whom are raising children as single mothers. Despite this continuing problem, some in Congress don’t believe it is one that needs increased funding.
PTSD and TBI are invisible wounds of war that over 20% of veterans carry home. Recent incidents involving soldiers and veterans in which PTSD or TBI may be involved have stirred a lot of media attention. The difficulties in dealing with work, school, and family life that these injuries cause and the stigma carried even by veterans who do not suffer from them causes problems in employment, studies, and at home. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the disorganized way the military has spent the nearly $3 billion allocated to it since 2007 to study PTSD and TBI. Statistics show treating veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI, or both is expensive and requires longer treatment times. Despite the costs to veterans and the necessary cost of treating these illnesses, many in Congress continue to target the Department of Veterans Affairs for cuts at a time when veterans need help the most.
America is not doing well by its veterans by many measures. The disturbing trend is that all of these problems are interconnected. Military service comes with great hardships for servicemembers and their families while in uniform and afterwards. Those that serve in uniform give years of their lives to train and fight for the country. Many suffer from visible and physical ailments, others suffer from invisible wounds. Their service often leads to struggles in the job market and in education. These sacrifices lead to as many disadvantages in life as advantages. Veteran’s benefits are earned, not given. Despite America’s professed love of its veterans, public funds and the efforts of those that support programs to assist or level the playing field for veterans are constantly threatened with cuts.
Those who have already sacrificed so much for the country are being asked to sacrifice even more.