Monday, April 14, 2008

Veteran, not victim

I almost missed this, but apparently I am a victim, not a veteran. According to this Op-ed in the StarTrib, that is. Debra Saunders opines-

...Americans have responded much better to veterans returning from U.S. missions abroad. We throw parades. We wrap our arms around them.
Then we forget about them as they try to enter the civilian workforce, typically with less success than counterparts who have never enlisted.

The money quote is the paragraph with statistics, which unfortunately are completely misleading-

A recent survey for the Department of Veterans Affairs found that 18 percent of vets recently back from tours of duty are out of work -- and a quarter of those with jobs earn less than $21,840 per year. In the first two years after leaving military service, the official unemployment rate for veterans was 9.5 percent -- more than double the 4.3 percent rate for a group of demographically similar nonvets.

Wow, that sounds really bad. Combat vets are unemployed at rates twice as high as civilians. That could only mean that vets are victims of this terrible Bush/Cheney misguided war, right? Or could there be another reason?

Anyone out there heard of military leave? Most troops coming home from overseas have at least a month or more of paid vacation.

Anyone out there ever heard of unemployment? Most returning Guard and Reserve soldiers are eligible for unemployment benefits. I'm not a fan of this, but the facts are that a soldier fresh home from Iraq can draw unemployment pay for about 3 months. And that's after their military leave is done.

Anyone out there heard of combat pay? Soldiers in a combat zone are paid extra for being in a dangerous area, and we pay no state or federal income taxes on pay earned in a combat zone. For many soldiers, that means a 20% pay raise while in country. Since there isn't much to spend your money on while in Iraq, is it hard to believe that many military folks save their money and splurge when they get home by not having to work?

And has anyone out there heard of the GI Bill? That's the VA program started in the 1940's to let combat vets go to college on the government's dime. Partly as a reward for serving the country, and partly as a means of advancing a huge group of people in their level of education. Millions of the Greatest Generation took advantage of the opportunity.

Flash forward to 2008. Over a million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly every one has now qualified for the GI Bill, and many also qualify for federal or state tuition assistance. For example, a soldier with Minnesota's Red Bulls that got home last summer qualifies for federal tuition assistance, which pays up to $250 per semester credit at almost any college. That's just tuition assistance. The GI Bill pays full time students up to $1100 per month for living expenses.

So for many returning combat vets, going to college is a money making proposition. But Ms Saunders makes no mention of this huge program. She just assumes that all combat vets, fresh home from the war, are desperate to go back to work and unable to. There's overtones of John Kerry's infamous gaffe in here-that we are all blue collar workers and couldn't possibly be smart enough to attend college.

For the record, here's what Webster's has to say-

Main Entry:

ve-tə-rən, ˈve-trən\
Function: noun
Latin veteranus, from veteranus, adjective, old, of long experience, from veter-, vetus old
Date: 1509
1 a: an old soldier of long service b: a former member of the armed forces 2: a person of long experience usually in some occupation or skill (as politics or the arts)

Main Entry:

Function: noun
Latin victima; perhaps akin to Old High German wīh holy
Date: 15th century
1: a living being sacrificed to a deity or in the performance of a religious rite 2: one that is acted on and usu. adversely affected by a force or agent : as a (1): one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions
(2): one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment b: one that is tricked or duped

The definitions of victim strikes me as particularly relevant. People like Ms Saunders like to crow about how bad us vets are being treated, not because they care but because they need us as a weapon to hurl at the White House. In our informal meeting with Sen Klobuchar last week, she deflected questions of Iraq with talk of her work on helping veterans with health care and benefits. She looked at us with almost pity, a minority that needed her help to secure our benefits. Veteran's issues is the stick she wields against those that criticize her for her stance on the war. Klobuchar and Saunders say 'See? I support the troops by doing what I do best-treating people like victims and then funding a government program to help them."
I am used to be a pawn on the field of battle, but to be used as a pawn in the battle of politics is more than I can stomach.

To Ms Saunders and Sen Klobuchar, I say quit treating us as victims that need your protection, and start respecting us as veterans who are intelligent enough to know what we have been through.

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