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Our Views: Vets' benefits already paid in full
Freebies, discounts for service members are nice, but what most really need are good jobs
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. Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson

 

US veterans by the numbers

• 21.2 million: Number of military veterans in the United States in 2012

• 1.6 million: Number of female US veterans in 2012

• 9.6 million: Number of veterans 65 and older in 2012. At the other end of the age spectrum, 1.8 million were younger than 35.

• 7.4 million: Number of Vietnam-era veterans in 2012. Moreover, there were 5.4 million who served during the Gulf Wars (representing service from August 1990 to present); 1.6 million who served in World War II (1941-1945); 2.3 million who served in the Korean War (1950-1953); and 5.3 million who served in peacetime only.

• 54,117: Number of living veterans in 2012 who served during the Vietnam era and both Gulf War eras and no other period. Other living veterans in 2012 who served during three wars: 933,315 served during both Gulf War eras. 307,376 served during both Gulf War (August 1990 to August 2001) and Vietnam era. 209,183 served during both the Korean War and the Vietnam era. 113,269 served during both World War II and the Korean War.

• 3: Number of states with 1 million or more veterans in 2012. These states were California
(1.9 million), Texas (1.6 million) and Florida (1.6 million).

• 13.6%: Percent of people 18 years and older in Alaska who were veterans in 2012; this is the highest percentage of veterans of any state. Montana followed with 12.7 percent.

• 8.7 million: Number of veterans 18 to 64 in the labor force in 2012

• 3.6 million: Number of veterans with a service-connected disability rating in 2012. Of this number, 881,981 had a rating of 70 percent or higher. A “service-connected” disability is one that was a result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. Severity of one’s disability is scaled from 0 to 100 percent, and eligibility for compensation depends on one’s rating.

• 1 in 4: The ratio of veterans under the age of 65 who had multiple types of health insurance coverage; four out of five veterans 65 and over had more than one type of health insurance coverage.

• 11.1 million: The number of veterans 18 years and over covered by employer-sponsored health insurance; 9.9 million covered by Medicare; 6.1 million covered by VA health care; 4.0 million covered by direct purchase insurance; 3.1 million covered by TRICARE; and 1.7 million covered by Medicaid. These numbers are not mutually exclusive. Individuals can have more than one type of health insurance coverage. 1.2 million: The number of veterans 18 year and over who lacked health insurance in 2012. Of this number, 15,700 were veterans age 65 and over.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

A nice tradition has emerged in recent years for Veterans Day. Monday, U.S. service members will be treated to free meals from restaurants, shopping discounts at retailers and similar perks from other businesses aimed to show them the appreciation they have earned so well.

Though these are appropriate gestures, what happens Tuesday when the goodies run out? That’s when many veterans still will be trying to return to a society and a workplace environment that has become less welcoming to everyone, particularly those making the transition back to civilian life.

True, unemployment has eased and the tight job market has loosened somewhat. The jobless rate for all U.S. veterans was 6.9 percent in October, close to the 6.8 percent rate for nonveterans, though up a bit from 6.3 percent the same time last year.

The disturbing trend, though, is that veterans of recent conflicts are having more trouble finding work. Among those who served in Gulf War conflicts since 2001, the jobless rate is an alarmingly high 10 percent, including an 11.6 percent rate among women, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A quarter of a million Gulf War veterans nationwide remain in search of work. Clearly, younger veterans are having trouble connecting with today’s jobs despite the technical training many received in uniform.

Those numbers are not likely to decline next year when hostilities in Afghanistan are scaled back and U.S. troops begin pulling out. Though the withdrawal will be gradual, over time it will bring tens of thousands home in search of education and employment.

The GI Bill provides veterans with financial aid for higher education, but as many have found these days, even a four-year degree is no guarantee of a career when companies seek ever more specific skills. Thus, many vets will join fellow graduates who are flipping burgers and bagging groceries until the right job comes along.

We applaud businesses for their salutes to our military with offers for meals and products on Veterans Day. But they can make a more permanent impact on their lives by increasing efforts to hire more veterans.

Many already have done so, taking advantage of the problem-solving skills veterans have developed while battling often unseen foes in desert warfare. Those who negotiate such life-or-death hazards have proven their worth as critical thinkers who would be an asset in any workplace.

Companies who hire veterans can take advantage of federal tax credits designed to connect returning troops to industries who need their labor. Those tax breaks are just one incentive from a government that should remain committed to its men and women in uniform. Even in a time of tighter government budgets, the nation can’t in good conscience skimp on veterans benefits.

Department of Veterans Affairs spending has more than doubled since 2005, from $70 billion to more than $152 billion. Much of that is attributed to the aging of Vietnam vets who need increasingly more care, and the various health challenges faced by recent soldiers returning from the Middle East.

This is not just more frivolous government spending; funding for veterans’ health care, housing and other necessities should be a priority in helping them return to civilian life.

Our nation realized long ago this was a fitting way to reward those who have given so much. Mississippi spent one-fifth of its state budget in 1866 to provide artificial limbs for its soldiers home from the Civil War. After that conflict, the National Home for Disabled Soldiers was established to house wounded warriors from both sides.

Yet returning soldiers found less of a welcome home from other wars. After World War I, veterans had few job prospects as unemployment soared into double digits. Thousands of troops returning with war wounds and illnesses led to creation of the Veterans Bureau in 1921, later to become the Veterans Administration, tasked with providing medical care and other needs.

The GI Bill was created after World War II for the 16 million troops who returned from Europe and the Pacific, helping that generation of achievers get an education, buy homes and farms, start businesses and build a peacetime prosperity that became the envy of the world.

Yet today, even more needs to be done. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the Department of Housing and Urban Development say some 62,000 veterans are homeless on U.S. streets on any given night; Veterans Inc. puts that number at 300,000. However many, they face physical, mental and emotional wounds we can’t ignore; after all, their afflictions were caused by the missions on which we sent them.

Our nation has been at war now for a dozen years in the Middle East, some troops serving multiple tours during that time. With the Iraq War ending and the one in Afghanistan winding down soon, it’s a perfect opportunity for leaders in Washington to find common ground on an issue where partisanship has no place: A combined effort to welcome home our heroes with the benefits, jobs and health care they need. Even if members of Congress can’t agree on anything else, surely they can come together to honor those who did their patriotic duty on our behalf.

With that leg up, our returning vets can do for our economy at home what they did for the cause of freedom overseas, just as their grandfathers did after World War II.

American veterans do not fit the stereotype of government-addicted underachievers looking for a handout. No one has done more to earn what they receive. We owe it to them, now and in the future, Veterans Day and beyond.

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