Sunday, October 19, 2014

Congress, and the "Job Creators," have failed our Veterans

"There are things I've seen, things I've learned that should not be left unsaid. War is a racket to protect economic interests, not our country, and our soldiers are sent to die on foreign soil to protect investments by big business."

--Major General Smedley Butler, 1935, U.S. Marine, author of War is a Racket, and "the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions" (Wikipedia). Quote from The Plot to Seize the White House, by Jules Archer.   

(WPA poster, by artist John McCrady, created in Louisiana between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The Forbes 400 recently added $270 billion to their personal fortunes. They're now worth $2.29 trillion. Meanwhile, "Corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years" and "Employee compensation is at the lowest level in 65 years" (see "Corporate Profits Grow and Wages Slide," New York Times).

What gives? I thought more wealth for the wealthy was supposed to result in good middle-class jobs flowing down on us like manna from Heaven. Wasn't that the major selling point behind trickle-down economics (a.k.a. colossal-tax-cuts-for-the-wealthy)? It appears that the wealthy got their extra wealth, but more and more of us aren't finding those great jobs. Funny how that played out, huh? (See, "Middle Class Poorer, Earning Less And Shrinking" and "The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest").

Anyway, as the already-wealthy keep adding more and more wealth to their personal fortunes, post-9/11 veterans are having to deal with an unemployment rate that is higher than the national unemployment rate, as well as an increased likelihood that they will end up homeless. Add these facts to the other challenges veterans face, for example, injuries, stress, and financial hardship, and perhaps it is no wonder that an average of 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

And make no mistake about it, unemployment plays a role in suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, unemployment is a suicide risk factor. A young homeless veteran in Seattle said, "I was contemplating suicide and everything else that comes along with PTSD, depression and joblessness on top of it." (Also see "Suicide, Unemployment Increasingly Linked, Paper Suggests" and "The Role of Unemployment in Veteran Suicide")

(WPA poster, by an unknown artist, created in New York City between 1936 and 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

One would think that our Congress would be very concerned about 22 veterans killing themselves on a daily basis, as well as the role that unemployment plays in increased suicide rates. But one would be wrong to think that, because Congress recently went on a vacation and "the most pressing issue in the veterans community--preventing suicide among troops and veterans--was not addressed." And when legislation was introduced in 2012 to create a public jobs program for unemployed veterans, Senate Republicans blocked it. It was reported that Republican Senator Tom Coburn objected to the legislation by arguing "that making progress on the country's debt was the best way to help veterans in the long-term. 'We ought to do nothing now that makes the problem worse for our kids and grandkids.'" Apparently, Coburn does not understand that many veterans are killing themselves now, and need more than just theoretical "long-term" help. He also appears to have no recognition of the fact that adult problems--like joblessness and suicide--also seriously harm "kids and grandkids."

New Deal policymakers helped veterans in a number of ways. For example, World War I veterans could find employment opportunities in the CCC. Other veterans could find opportunities in the WPA. In 1936, over a Roosevelt veto, Congress gave World War I veterans their promised bonuses nine years early (see the reasons for Roosevelt's veto here). Near the end of World War II, President Roosevelt was a driving force behind the creation of the G.I. Bill, declaring that veterans "must not be demobilized into an environment of inflation and unemployment..."

According to a researcher from Oxford University and an epidemiologist from Stanford University, New Deal policies were "associated with reduced suicide rates" (David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, p. 17, New York: Basic Books, 2013).  

Congressman Dean Heller of Nevada, one of the few Republican senators who supported the legislation for a public jobs program for unemployed veterans said, "After everything our veterans have done for us, the least we can do is make sure they are afforded every opportunity to thrive here at home." Derek Bennett, chief of staff for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told a National Public Radio host, "I think the country...has a bit of moral obligation to ensure that veterans are employed."

Many Republican leaders, after their party shut down efforts to create a public jobs program for unemployed veterans, are once again calling for "boots on the ground" in Iraq. Why? Because they're scared of the new terrorism threat that ISIL presents. But when the soldiers return home, and that fear has subsided, can there be any doubt that they will continue to ignore the plight of unemployed veterans, and continue to keep their focus on crafting public policies that pamper billionaires?

This is no way to treat the men & women who have served in the military. And our cold-blooded politicians (most of whom are millionaires and have no financial worries) could learn a few lessons from the New Deal.

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