Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guest post: Fixing Inequities Towards Returning Veterans

Battle-scarred American veterans are facing continuing warfare as they return home. While there has been a drastic increase in veteran enrollment in higher education, everything from a traditional 4 year university to online colleges and universities, many are still finding coming back to be a hard fit. This civil strategy is more subtle than field combat, but the wounds are deep and sometimes lethal: high unemployment, difficulty fitting into civilian life, and high rates of suicide among veterans.

Although soldiers bring some of their problems home with them, many of the issues they face are woven into the American social fabric. In spite of public sentiments about honoring the troops, action in the form of meaningful policy has not always followed. Even in 1944, when the House and Senate passed the sweeping GI Bill of Rights, pledging financial help to men and women who had served their country was a controversial topic. Some lawmakers balked at paying $20 a week to unemployed veterans, arguing that they would be less likely to look for work if they were receiving aid. Others argued that attending a college or university, which the GI Bill would finance, was a privilege reserved only for the wealthy.

In the end, those lobbying for more education and other benefits for veterans prevailed. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the legislation, and the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act became law in June 1944. Its most important provisions were education and training, loan pledges for homes, farms and businesses, and unemployment pay. By 1947, 49% of students entering college were veterans. The country had moved far beyond the benefits of $60 and a train ticket given to WWI veterans upon their return just 20 years before.

The GI Bill has been revised several times since its passage, with the newest version giving full college tuition and fees up to $17,500 to veterans who qualify. However, today’s veterans still face vast problems at home.

  • The unemployment rate for Gulf War era-II vets--those who have served since September 2001--hovers around 12%. The rate of unemployment for all veterans is 8.3%.

  • Men ages 18 to 24 who served during the Gulf War era II report a 29.1% unemployment rate, compared with 17.6% of male non-veterans the same age.

  • 26% of veterans from the same era report a service-connected disability, while only 14% of all veterans report the same.

  • 44% of veterans who served in the past decade report difficulty returning to civilian life.

  • Veterans have in 2010 made up 20% of the 30,000 estimated suicides in the country.

Although the financial crisis that began in 2008 complicates veterans' current social and economic problems, these difficulties are neither new nor easy to solve. Committed policymakers in different states across the country are trying to help ease the burdens of veterans, but laws vary from state to state. The process of helping veterans return to civilian society in an orderly and productive manner requires continued national solutions.



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