While the country paused this weekend to honor our veterans, that spirit of recognition and appreciation should extend further than a three-day weekend.


While the country paused this weekend to honor our veterans, that spirit of recognition and appreciation should extend further than a three-day weekend.

After all, the National Priorities Project estimated in April for the average Wichita-area resident, 42.2 cents of every federal income tax dollar is spent on the military.

But, of that, only 3.5 cents is spent on veterans’ benefits (28.7 cents is spent on current military expenditures, and 10 cents is spent on interest for military debt).

Many states and the federal government have taken and are taking steps to make sure veterans receive the care they need. Kansas has the Kansas Military Emergency Relief Fund to provide up to $1,000 for soldiers facing rough financial times. State officials are planning a counseling and support center for soldiers and their families.

On the national level, last Thursday the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Webb GI Bill, proposed by Senator Jim Webb, which will cover tuition, fees and books at a veteran’s most expensive state school, plus provide a monthly stipend. These benefits would apply to those who have seen active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives.

The Webb Bill hasn’t received unanimous support, however. President Bush has indicated he will veto the it. He and top brass at the Pentagon fear the measures will encourage soldiers to leave the military and go to school instead. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was one of the few and not-so-proud who voted against it.

While repeated and repeatedly lengthened tours in hostile environments might have a little more to do with that, we also fail to see how inadequate medical facilities would serve as a recruiting tool while increased educational opportunities would serve as a deterrent.

Three issues seem to come up over and over, both in terms of needs and lack of resources:

Medical care

In 2007, The Washington Post did a series of articles on Walter Reed General Hospital, previously considered a fore-runner in medical care. The articles exposed poor conditions not in medical care, but in housing conditions and bureaucratic paperwork. The Pentagon, however, has taken steps to improve Building 18, the facility at the center of the scandal, and is planning to close Walter Reed in a few years and make nearby Bethesda Naval Hospital the national military medical center. These are quality steps, but the fact that such steps were not taken until the press got wind of them shows yet again, the federal government seems far more capable of finding war funding than veterans’ funding.

Education

The Webb GI Bill passed with a veto-proof majority, so regardless of Bush’s actions, the bill should eventually pass. Bush should lay aside his protests and sign the bill rather than delaying the inevitable. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this measure will cost $52 billion in the next decade, which sounds like a large chunk of change, but given the U.S. already has spent more than 10 times that on the Iraq conflict with no end in sight, it seems fitting if we can afford to train soldiers for war, we can afford to train them for life after war.

But all the educational funding money can buy won’t make a difference if it is hoarded into a system that is unnavigable or incomprehensible. To that end, state college systems should strive to establish Veterans Aid offices at each school to help veterans understand what benefits are available, work with creditors and the universities in the event of deployment, and provide networking and support options for those attempting to transition into post-military life.

Mental health assistance

Unfortunately, Vietnam-era vets taught us the transition back to civilian life is difficult for many, traumatized by experiences and images most of us will never have to imagine. The politically charge environment behind the current conflicts and the constant “Should we have or should we not have?” only exasperates the situation.

While some states are making patchwork efforts to provide support and services, without a consistent federal effort, such a hodge-podge scenario likely will confuse more than assist. The federal government should provide the funds necessary and work to create a centralized system, as no such system currently exists for veterans’ affairs and assistance.

Military men and women have risked everything, leaving family and friends to fight a war. They shouldn’t have to ask to be treated with dignity upon returning home, to have a change to rebuild the lives the government asked them to put on hold. It should be expected.

— The editorial board