Editorial: Payback time for veterans

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

The U.S. soldiers, sailors and aircrews and the vast uniformed logistics apparatus that supported them in the slog to victory in World War II did not think of themselves as a problem.
The veterans later recalled thinking of the war as a simple proposition: They had been given a job to do, which the overall majority willingly accepted, even though it was dangerous, and, in 1942, there was no end in sight. They did that job with efficiency and dispatch. And they wanted to get it over and done with for one reason: So they could go home.
But, privately, some in government wondered if these veterans wouldnít be a problem ó a happy one to have, certainly, because they were safely home ó but a problem nonetheless.
Over 15 million veterans, mostly young men whose schooling and careers had been cut short almost before they had started, were flocking back to an economy that had recently been in a deep depression and one that, without the powerful engines of the war industries, might easily relapse into depression.
Congress worried about this problem well into 1944. That June, the lawmakers, struggling to do the right thing in the short term, enacted legislation that was more far-reaching than even the most insightful of them knew, a law that reshaped our society and economy ó the G.I. Bill. It was big government being big-hearted.
The actual name of the law reflected the modesty of its original intentions: the Servicemenís Readjustment Act.
In past wars, the government strived, in President Abraham Lincolnís eloquent words, ěto care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan …î In other words, repair the visible damage, and leave the others to get on with their lives.
The G.I. Bill had, intentionally or not, a far loftier aim: To give returning veterans not only a future but a better future. During the 12 years of the original law ó it has been modified and extended several times since ó 7.1 million vets, who had gone into the service when education beyond high school was more the exception than the rule, had obtained college educations or advanced vocational training under the bill.
They staffed Americaís great corporations, and the 2.4 million who took advantage of the billís low-cost home loans were integral to the creation of the modern American suburb.
Now we are faced with the all-volunteer military coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a sluggish economy with a 12.1 percent unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets and 9 percent overall. About 1 million more service members are expected to join them in the job market by 2016.
President Barack Obama has proposed, and Congress is considering, financial incentives for businesses to hire unemployed vets.
The financial incentives are fine, but what is needed is a change in the national mindset. These disciplined, skilled, initiative-taking veterans should be treated not as a national problem but as a national opportunity.
ó Scripps Howard News Service