The Big Picture of Veterans’ Affairs

 

Charles Heckman

Vets Voting Bloc

Washington State

 

 

   Since the Vietnam War, veterans have been faced with a wide variety of problems that veterans of earlier wars seldom had to contend with.  These problems may seem unrelated, but they are not.  This is an outline to show how one problem leads to another and to indicate where the blame has to be placed.

 

1. The Department of Labor

 

   In looking for the chief devil who has sought to make life miserable for those who fought for America against the “Evil Empire” during the Cold War, veterans inevitably encounter the United States Department of Labor.  While the Vietnam War was still being fought, Congress realized that the returning veterans were not being treated fairly on the job market.  It began passing laws to try to overcome the problems of veterans seeking employment.

   In 1974, Congress wrote the Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act beginning with the words, “(1) As long as the unemployment and underemployment continue as serious problems among disabled veterans and Vietnam Era veterans, alleviating unemployment and underemployment among such veterans is a national responsibility.

   “(2) Because of the special nature of employment and training needs of such veterans and the national responsibility to meet those needs, policies and programs to increase opportunities for such veterans to obtain employment, job training, counseling, and job placement services and assistance in securing advancement in employment should be effectively and vigorously implemented by the Secretary of Labor and such implementation should be accomplished through the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veteran's Employment”

   The law then provided for special treatment for Vietnam Era veterans seeking employment with the government, with Federal contractors, and through state employment agencies.  It stated specifically that any veteran looking for a job would be placed in one or in training.  The law stated,

 

"The Secretary of Labor shall establish administrative controls for the following purposes:

"(1) To insure that each eligible veteran, especially veterans of the Vietnam era and each eligible person, who requests assistance under this chapter shall promptly be placed in a satisfactory job or job training opportunity or receive some other form of assistance designated to enhance such veteran's and eligible person's employment prospects substantially, such as individual job development or employment counseling services."

 

   During the past 30 years, the Department of Labor has spent several billion dollars appropriated by Congress to place veterans in jobs without accomplishing anything.  Veterans have consistently been discriminated against on the job market without receiving any assistance from the Department of Labor.  Many studies and statistics are available on the problem, but the two agencies of the Department of Labor responsible for protecting veterans from discrimination, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, are noted for their inactivity.

   This situation would have been bad enough, but the courts interpreted the law as giving veterans’ who were discriminated against by a Federal agency or a contractor no private cause of action.  That meant that a veteran overtly denied a job because the employer did not want to hire a veteran was prohibited from suing the employer in his own behalf.  Only the Secretary of Labor was permitted to file such a lawsuit, and every employer knew that the Department of Labor was committed to doing nothing to enforce the laws.  It was not until 1994 that Congress passed the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which gave veterans the right to sue in their own behalf.  By this time, however, most Vietnam veterans had spent 20 years of unemployment or underemployment, and there were no lawyers proficient in veterans’ employment law.  In fact, lawyers had avoided veterans as clients for many years because a law from the period after the Civil War was still on the books limiting the fee a lawyer could charge a veteran to $20.

 

 

2. Colleges and Universities

 

   The failure of the Department of Labor had no greater impact than that on the makeup of university faculties.  After World War II, the majority of students at the top universities were war veterans.  At Harvard, for example, 2 out of 3 students were veterans, compared to less than 3 out of 100 in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  Many of the World War II vets wound up with graduate degrees and were appointed as tenured members of the faculties of colleges and universities.

   During the Vietnam War, student deferments were liberally granted, making the universities centers for anti-war activities.  The personal fear by many students of being drafted fed the ranks of the demonstrators.  Many old-line communists in the United States strongly opposed Nixon’s move to end the draft because they feared that it would rob them of their manpower for bringing about a North Vietnamese victory.  The number of students ready to demonstrate for them actually did decrease considerably after the draft was abolished.

   Nevertheless, the damage had already been done.  Many persons with little interest in research or teaching earned graduate degrees only because it was the only way they could keep from being drafted.  They have worked for the rest of their lives with the goal of vindicating their actions during the way.  Over the years, they have propagated the myth that they were the moral and courageous Americans because they “opposed the war” from the safety of their college campuses, while the Americans who did their duty by serving in the armed forces were psychos or suckers.  The mythology has been embellished to include all men and women in the armed forces, who are regularly denounced before college classes as “baby killers” or warmongers.  Almost everyone has heard about students in the ROTC being denounced as murderers before the class by their professors.  I personally heard from a teacher who took a course in English at a college how the professor publicly denounced one of the women in the class many times as a “baby killer” because she had served in the U. S. Army as a clerk during peacetime. 

   Usually, these professors are clever enough to keep their denunciations of servicemen in their classrooms.  Recently, however, we have had two public announcements by university faculty members.  The first was by a member of the faculty of St. Xaver College in Illinois, who advised an Air Force Academy cadet to quit the service to avoid being a “baby killer.”  The second was by a faculty member of Columbia University in New York, who told a crowd at an anti-war demonstration that he hoped there would be “a million Mogadishus” in Iraq.  This means that he wished for 7,000,000 servicemen to be killed in the war.  That is a call for the death of all men and women on active duty.

   While many veterans have expressed outrage at what these professors have said, we have to be thankful to them for calling public attention to the widespread defamation of servicemen and veterans that is going on quietly at American colleges and universities.  Both were in their mid-30s and were undoubtedly surprised at the reaction to their words.  They have spent their entire lives in a milieu where servicemen are considered pariahs.  We have to realize that thousands of professors are saying in the privacy of their classrooms what these two professors said publicly.  Every college student for more than a generation has heard their professors denounce servicemen and veterans and accuse them of the most heinous crimes.  This naturally has made an impression on the millions of college students who have attended their classes.  These students then go into the business world, the professions, or the civil service with the idea that our servicemen are psychos who must be tolerated for fighting wars but are otherwise unworthy to participate in our society.

   Most servicemen and veterans see military service as a duty of citizenship.  Unlike 18th century Europe, where the armies and navies were maintained as mercenary castes, America began its military tradition with the minutemen, who were citizen-soldiers ready to put their civilian work aside when called upon to defend their communities.  This tradition continued until the anti-military propaganda at American colleges and universities heated up during the Vietnam War.  They made the ROTC a special target of attack because it was the symbol of the citizen soldier on campus.  While the academic achievements of the faculties declined to a ridiculously low niveau, their intolerance against opposing views has reached pathological levels.  To suppress any contradictions against their radical hatred of the armed forces, these faculties have closed themselves off to anyone who served in the armed forces.  The number of veterans employed by American colleges and universities is extremely small, as Department of Labor statistics show.  What they do not show is that those few veterans are employed almost exclusively as night watchmen, groundskeepers, and janitors.  They are extremely rare on the faculties.  Obviously, most veterans would deny the allegation that servicemen are psychos or suckers, and this would cast doubt on the myths the draft dodgers on the faculties have been propagating for the past 40 years.  Therefore, veterans are denied faculty employment.

   Obviously, denying employment to veterans by a Federal contractor is illegal.  If the Department of Labor had been doing its job, discrimination against veterans would have been prevented 40 years ago, and the deterioration of the universities would have been prevented.  Virtually all colleges and universities are Federal contractors, and the Federal contract calls for a wide variety of measures to ensure that veterans seeking employment are given advantages.  The payments for the contracts should have been cut of by the Secretary of Labor as soon as it became apparent that veterans were not being hired.  That is the law!

 

 

3. The negative picture of the veteran

 

   For more than a generation, servicemen and veterans have been systematically defamed before successive classes of college students.  This has not been without effect.  When Congress seeks to save money by abolishing the promised health care for retired military personnel and their spouses or refuses to permit concurrent payment of disability and retirement pay, it shows the general lack of respect servicemen and veterans receive from our leaders in business and government.  Is this surprising in view of the fact that almost all of our leaders have attended a college or university, where they heard veterans repeatedly denounced as morons, psychos, and baby killers?  They may have noted that no veterans were on the faculty and heard it explained that veterans are too stupid to serve as faculty members.

   When the United States entered World War I, it drew its officers almost entirely from the ivy league colleges.  During World War II, most of the officers were recruited through the ROTC program.  After these wars, many veterans returned to attend college, and many later served on the faculties of universities.  Today, the constant propaganda against military service at the universities has undermined the unity between the citizens and their defenders.  On the one hand, it has denied qualified veterans the earned opportunity to realize their potential, and on the other, it has placed our education system in the hands of unworthy people, who ask only what their country can do for them rather than what they can do for their country.

   In spite of the obvious shortcomings of the university faculties since the Vietnam War, they have undeniably been effective in defaming our servicemen and the military service in general.  Given the general disparagement of veterans to which virtually all persons in leadership positions have been exposed through the colleges they attended, it is not surprising that there is a general acceptance of measures to reduce or eliminate benefits given to veterans.  If the government has to save money, why not reduce retirement pay, disability payments, medical care, or other programs for veterans?  After all, our leaders have come to regard veterans as suckers, psychos, and “baby killers.”  They are not wanted in the civil service, at major corporations, or in any jobs but the most menial ones.

   Most veterans listen only to the praise given them on Veterans’ Day.  They do not know what is being said about them in classrooms, at board meetings, or at bar associations.  They fail to see that none of their fellow veterans are in positions to deny the slanders being spread about them.

   We have to realize how non-veterans see servicemen and veterans.  They fail to keep track of what is being said behind their backs.  In high school, if our children and grandchildren heard anything about the Vietnam War at all, they heard that Americans were murdering civilians, will plenty of details given about the incident at My Lai but no attention paid to what happened at Hue and elsewhere throughout South Vietnam, where the communists were systematically executing tens of thousands of civilians.  In college, they are bombarded with invectives about servicemen, who are invariably blamed for the wars they fought in.  They see the Charlie Sheen movies depicting the nice young men who became psychos in the war.  They also see programs like Kojac, where the villain of every show is a crazed veteran.  Is it any wonder our leaders think nothing about eliminating health care benefits?

 

 

Jobs and health care

 

   Why is health care usually given the most attention by veterans’ groups seeking legislation?  People who did not serve in the armed forces seem to find ways of getting medical attention.  Why do veterans need special attention?

   As early as 1981, the New York Times reported that health care for veterans would become unaffordable for the United States Government when all of the veterans entitled to it became older.  At the time, veterans suffering from unusual forms of cancer and other diseases now known to be associated with exposure to agent orange were coming to the Veterans’ Administration for medical care and being turned away.  Other veterans were complaining about sub-standard treatment.  To the veterans, it seemed obvious that the government would take care of their war wounds.  However, the specter of millions of veterans descending on the veterans’ health care system for treatment and bankrupting the treasury terrified the politicians.  The New York Times article seemed to express the wish that all the veterans to just go away - or die off quickly.

   The veterans’ health care system is actually overburdened, but this was an avoidable problem.  On the one hand, the politicians did not want to come into conflict with the powerful interests in the civil service, universities, and other Federal contractors by forcing them to accept veterans as employees, but on the other the other hand, they were put under pressure not to let too many veterans die in the street at one time.  The solution to this dilemma should have been obvious.  The anti-veteran sentiments of many personnel specialists should have been disregarded, and our elected politicians should have made laws with teeth to enforce veterans’ preference, affirmative action for veterans, and other measures required to facilitate an easy transition to civilian life.

   Non-veterans with decent jobs receive health care partially or fully paid for by their employers.  If veterans were permitted to hold such jobs, they would be receiving their medical care through health insurance outside of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs system.  They would retire with pensions from their civilian jobs and continue to receive full medical coverage, just the way their non-veteran contemporaries do.  They would not be impoverished and forced to seek medical care from veterans’ hospitals.  The veterans’ health care system could have remained fairly small, confining its activities mainly to caring from veterans with severe war wounds and retired military personnel who find it more convenient to go to a veterans’ medical facility than to use their civilian health insurance.
   Unfortunately, our politicians failed to actively support a policy of giving veterans the same job opportunities as non-veterans.  They ignored the fact that a group of embittered anti-war activists had entrenched themselves in the universities and civil service and were denying anyone who had served the country in uniform a chance to find a decent job.  This means that veterans had to work far below their abilities at jobs giving less than the usual fringe benefits.  They received no reasonable tenure, no subsidized health insurance, no acceptable retirement plan, and no long-term employment.  They were perennially the “last hired, first fired” in an inflexible employment system.

   Since few veterans have any options other than seeking medical care at a veterans’ hospital, the facilities are naturally overcrowded.  The government is now paying a heavy bill for its failure to enforce the law after the Vietnam War.  The Federal civil service alone has reduced the number of veterans it employs from about 1.5 million in the mid-1970s to only about 450,000 now.  That means that more than a million veterans are seeking care at veterans’ hospitals rather than using the Blue Cross coverage available to civil service employees.  Millions more were barred from employment at universities, where free medical care would also have been available.

 

 

The solution

 

   After 30 years, it should be obvious that agencies of the Department of Labor are not going to undertake anything about employment discrimination against veterans.  Let’s save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year by abolishing the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.

   Veterans need to be given a right to sue in their own behalf and receive enough damages to make veterans’ law interesting for private lawyers.  If a veteran is discriminated against and sues, the employer should be denied payments under Federal contracts.  There is no excuse for our government to illegally pay millions of dollars to colleges and universities that are discriminating against veterans in selections for faculty positions and defaming our armed forces in their classes.  Discrimination should be eliminated by making violation of the veterans’ laws very costly.

   With the money saved by eliminating the useless Department of Labor agencies, the government should provide public legal services to veterans.  Right now, veterans have to try to collect nickels and dimes to fight legal battles with anti-veteran colleges and universities, which have millions of tax dollars available for their legal services through Federal programs.  They must fight for their legal preference rights against government agencies with virtually unlimited legal resources through the United States Department of Justice and the offices of the state attorneys general.

   Those of us who fought for the United States in past and present wars need to fight again to restore our good name.  Before we can expect justice, we must learn the reasons we are being denied justice.  The system established by Congress during the 1970s does not work.  Anyone aware of the fact that veterans account for about 40% of the homeless in this country must know this.

   The election of 2004 should be our next target.  We need fundamental reforms, not just more laws without enforcement provisions.  Let us get rid of the programs that don’t work and close down the agencies that have failed.  We need to win back respect before our politicians will give us justice.