I’ve long thought that Democrats could open make a lot of political hay by centering veterans’ benefits in their programs and rhetoric. During the Bush administration, I was consistently outraged by cuts to the Veterans’ Administration at the same time that we were fighting ridiculous wars. I was deeply frustrated by Democrats not portraying themselves as the true party of the soldier–the party that would provide them with the finest safety equipment, provide the greatest benefits, fund the VA, get them the medical care they needed when they returned, get them a job.
Now I absolutely refuse to say that veterans are heroes. This is bullshit. Some of them may be heroes, but serving in Iraq does not make one a hero in and of itself. This is nothing but empty rhetoric. However, these young men and women are giving a chunk of their lives to do the government’s bidding. While some are trained in transferable skills, the average soldier is not. The benefits they are promised upon enlistment often turn out to have more conditions than an airline credit card’s offer of free tickets. When they leave, they return to a world where they are years behind their age cohort in job experience, can be socially awkward, and often have psychological or physical issues from there years in the military. Young veterans have a shocking unemployment rate.
Veterans’ joblessness is concentrated among the young and those still serving in the National Guard or Reserve. The unemployment rate for veterans aged 20 to 24 has averaged 30 percent this year, more than double that of others the same age, though the rate for older veterans closely matches that of civilians.
That’s simply unacceptable.
I approve of Obama’s emphasis on trying to get employers to hire veterans. I don’t inherently support giving advantages to veterans in hiring, but I do support any kind of government program for stimulating the economy. Combined with the fact that the government does owe these people a fair shake, it makes sense both from a policy and a political sense to center programs for returning veterans. Couch them in as much patriotic rhetoric as you want; I don’t necessarily buy it but people eat it up. Just do the right thing by people we have have chewed up and spat out.