Many years ago, Congressman James Duncan said, "Nothing is too good for those who served." For some veterans, the sentiment sometimes shared is, “Nothing is too good for our troops. And nothing is what they'll get.” What follows are a few examples of where that feeling comes from.
* A recent Duke University study found that “employers believe veterans are less suited for jobs that involve social-emotional skills and interacting with people than their non-veteran counterparts.” The result is that post-9/11 era veterans have a higher rate of unemployment than the national average. But we “support our veterans.”
* The Veterans Affairs hospital in Decatur, Georgia, suspended routine surgeries for five weeks in late September because of dangerous practices. The VA office charged with protecting whistleblowers referred 2,526 submissions to other VA program offices unequipped to do such investigations. The office itself retaliated against two whistleblowers. But “we support our veterans.”
* Veterans’ mortgage fees will increase by more than half a billion dollars over the next 10 years. Much of it will be used to expand housing grants for disabled veterans and to fund scholarships for the children of military members killed in the line of duty. However, about $86 million will offset the U.S. deficit. So, some veterans will pay more to support other veterans and pay down the debt. But “we support our veterans.”
* The state of Iowa says it seeks to attract veterans to the state. One of the benefits is designed to help veterans make down payments on homes. The Legislature has not provided enough funding over the past three years, creating a waiting list. That means veterans who apply now will have to wait until July to get the benefit. But we “support our veterans.”
* Military members and their families are too often exposed to inadequate and sometimes unsafe conditions. Congress provided $16 million to revamp a facility storing explosives that is currently in violation of Army safety standards. An on-base middle school in Maryland has mold, pest infestations, sewage backups, and heating and ventilation failures. The funds for these projects and more were diverted to build a fence on the border. America’s service members and their families, not Mexico, are paying for the wall. But we “support the troops.”
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* Some military families aren’t doing that great to begin with. Studies show that 30 percent of military children attending Department of Defense-run schools in the U.S. qualify for free or reduced lunch. An Army Inspector General report found that families at every post surveyed believed that private housing managers put profit "above life, health and safety." A recent Rand survey of military spouses showed that 32 percent said they had unmet needs even after reaching out to available resources. And yet, we “support the troops.”
* The disregard of veterans extends to those who run for public office. The last two veterans nominated for president had their service mocked. National convention delegates wore purple heart Band-Aids to denigrate one and the words "prefer people who weren’t captured" were used to denigrate the other. We “support our veterans,” as long as their views align with ours.
I don’t want to diminish the benefits that veterans receive nor the genuine spirit that motivates many people to go out of their way to honor veterans. But perhaps we could dispense with the bombast often delivered about veterans. If nothing else, veterans deserve honesty and fulfillment of promises, not hyperbole.
One last piece of testimony is to our more recent veterans. Anyone who has served in the last 20 years did so knowing that there was a high probability of deployment. They didn’t invent spurious excuses to avoid sacrifice. They stood up and embraced it. That is a tribute to this generation.
These service members had responsibilities that go far beyond what most people could experience in 20 years of civilian life. They come from across the racial and political spectrum of America. They swore an oath to defend an idea, not a person or a party. Perhaps we could honor veterans by making our communities, states and nation worthy of the sacrifices that they made.
Next week: Charese Yanney
A Sioux City resident, Steve Warnstadt is government affairs coordinator for Western Iowa Tech Community College. He is a former Democratic state senator and retired Army National Guard brigadier general. He and his wife, Mary, are the parents of one son and one daughter.