Inside Opinion

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Tag: veterans


Vets deserve a soft landing in employment

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

What America’s veterans tend to need most is quite simple: good jobs.

Some positive news on that front has come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to its latest numbers, Americans who’ve served since 9/11 – many Iraq and Afghan war combat vets among them – having been breaking into the civilian work force in greater numbers. Their unemployment rate reportedly fell to 7.5 percent last month, though it remains higher among those 24 or younger.

But the raw numbers don’t tell you what kind of jobs veterans have been finding. Nor do they tell you how National Guard and Reserve troops have been treated by their former employers.

A new Los Angeles Times report suggests that many of them have been treated shabbily – sometimes by the federal government itself.

Last year, the Times found, the U.S. Labor Department and Office of Special Counsel accepted 1,430 new cases of alleged criminal job discrimination against National Guard and Reserve veterans. That number compared to 848 in 2001: an increase of more than 60 percent.

These disputes commonly involve a 1994 law that requires the former employers of service members to offer them jobs comparable to the positions they left or would have gotten had they not served.

Cases referred for prosecution are the worst of the worst – the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Most veterans presumably are not eager to sue the people who sign their paychecks.

Many of these disputes are settled informally, sometimes with the help of the Defense Department. But there’s no telling how many vets have just shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
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VA’s delays, errors create hardships for veterans

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ delays in acting on disability claims isn’t just inconvenient. Congressional testimony Thursday indicates that at least two veterans may have died “due to delay in care.”

That would be the most extreme result of the VA’s backlog, which doesn’t appear to be decreasing. Most regional offices  are experiencing longer processing times, according to auditors and a review of VA data by McClatchy Newspapers.

The average wait to begin receiving disability compensation is now 337 days at the Seattle office – more than 11 months – up from 213 days in January 2012. It’s even worse in New York City: 641 days. The number of vets with backlogged claims is expected to be more than 1 million by the end of March – and keep growing. Read more »


Benefits go begging when vets aren’t informed

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Ignorance isn’t bliss if you’re a military veteran unaware of the benefits and services available to you.

Unfortunately, that’s the case for millions of America’s veterans. A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2010 Veterans Affairs survey data found that more than half of veterans have little or no idea what benefits they’re entitled to – including access to VA health facilities, payment for disabilities incurred during military service, home loans and money for education.

Even among the best-informed cohort – younger veterans who served since 9/11 – 40 percent say they have little or no understanding of their benefits. More than 60 percent are unaware of their life insurance benefits.
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Please, Pentagon: Give us a Stolen Valor database

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

The Stolen Valor Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a week ago, went a very long way to avoid a quarrel with the First Amendment.

It didn’t threaten just anyone who falsely claimed military honors. If there was any way a claim of combat distinction could be theoretically argued, the law didn’t apply. It didn’t apply even to the vast majority of false claims of heroism.

Under the 2005 law, you could still lie about being a military veteran. You could lie about being a brave veteran.

You could lie about fighting in Vietnam even if you were 3 years old at the time. You could lie about fighting fearlessly in the Battle of Khe Sanh, lie about saving lives there, lie about routing the Viet Cong single-handedly. You could lie about being gravely wounded yet giving up your place on the helicopter so that your buddies could be evacuated instead.

You could lie about being tortured as a prisoner of war and refusing to give in. You could lie extravagantly enough to get free drinks from everyone in sight for the rest of your life.

The single thing you could not do is lie about receiving the Medal of Honor or other specific military decoration if a prosecutor could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had not received one and knowingly claimed you did.

It had to be a lie refuted by objective, bright-line proof – a lie comparable to advertising a Fountain of Youth Cream that supposedly turns 70-year-olds into 20-year-olds, complete with magical birth certificates. The law was so narrow, so based on matters of unambiguous record, that it left no room to single out unpopular opinions or criticism of government.
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Intolerable jobless rates for America’s youngest veterans

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Barack Obama recently declared victory in Afghanistan – sort of – and announced plans to bring the last combat troops home in 2014. As the war winds down, our commitment to the troops who served shouldn’t wind down with it.

The unemployment rate among the country’s youngest veterans – the ones who volunteered after 9/11 – is intolerably high. The best current numbers, from 2011, were released in March by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here are the low points:

• Last year, 12.1 percent of all “post-9/11” vets were out of work last year – nearly half again the country’s overall unemployment rate of roughly 8 percent.

• Among black post-9/11 vets, unemployment ran 14.3 percent. Among Hispanics, 17 percent.

• The numbers are far worse for male veterans under the age of 24. Their jobless rate was a staggering three out of every ten – 70 percent higher than their nonveteran peers.

• A total of 234,000 post-9/11 vets want jobs and can’t find them. This army of unemployed patriots is much larger than the forces the United States deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
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Massacre excuses: Guilt by association for U.S. troops

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Too many cheap explanations are being tossed around for the March 11 massacre of what appears to be 17 innocent villagers in Afghanistan. As a result, untold thousands of combat veterans risk getting indirectly smeared.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a Lake Tapps man who’d been deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has been charged with the killings. The public knows very little about the crimes and very little about him; the Army has not been particularly forthcoming.

Into the vacuum of information has blown a whirlwind of speculation. Plus, in this case, artful comments from Bales’ defense attorney.

Much of the speculation concerns post-traumatic stress syndrome. Specifically, whether the slaughter was triggered by PTSD.

There are several problems with this notion. For starters, the Army has said nothing about whether Bales actually suffered from PTSD. His wife has said she saw no signs of it.

The estimates of soldiers who return from war with the disorder runs as high as 30 percent. That leaves a minimum of 70 percent who don’t come back with PTSD. Was Bales among the minority who do? We simply don’t know.

More to the point, soldiers and veterans who’ve had PTSD aren’t known for mass murder. The disorder can cause anguish, nightmares and flashbacks; it can trigger domestic abuse and even suicide.

But it doesn’t connect any dots for violence of the March 11 magnitude. The attempts to turn it into an explanation imply that other soldiers with the same condition are also at risk of becoming bloodthirsty berserkers.
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Did Madigan’s PTSD team break faith with soldiers?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The United States has a history of losing interest in its combat veterans after they’ve lost their military usefulness. Shame on all of us if that has happened at Madigan Army Medical Center.

The Army has been investigating the practices of a psychiatric team charged with confirming diagnoses of service-related post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers. The question is whether doctors were dispassionately looking at symptoms or trying to save the Pentagon money by minimizing disability claims.

Someone deserves credit for taking this seriously. Both the commander of Madigan and the leader of the PTSD review team have been temporarily relieved of command. Twelve soldiers who had their PTSD diagnoses reversed at Madigan have since been re-examined by Walter Reed, where doctors concluded that six of them indeed suffered from the disorder.

That 50 percent error rate looks bad, to say the least. The Army is now seeking to review the cases of all soldiers who had their PTSD diagnoses thrown out at Madigan in the last four years.

For combat veterans, the stakes are big. A severe case of PTSD is a crippling condition; the diagnosis can lead to medical retirement, an immediate pension and a lifetime of medical care.
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Thank a veteran today; even better, offer one a job

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

We have a lot of people to thank this Veterans Day – somewhere in the neighborhood of 21.8 million, according to the 2010 census. That’s how many men and women have served in the U.S. military, both in war and peace, and are still alive.

At one end of the spectrum, the ranks of veterans are marching into history. The last American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, died in February, a few weeks after his 110th birthday. And the soldiers of World War II – the so-called “Greatest Generation” are fading fast.

As of the 2010 census, 2.1 million WWII vets were still alive, but they’re dying at a rate of about 740 a day. The National WWII Museum estimates that of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, only 1.7 million are still living. If you know any, don’t put off thanking them.
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