Veterans need our help

Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009

The following editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

In 1944, as Congress contemplated legislation to provide millions of returning World War II veterans with the opportunity for free college educations or vocational training, the University of Chicago's president, Robert Maynard Hutchins, worried that it would bring pressure on institutions of higher learning to accept huge numbers of unqualified students. "Colleges and universities will find themselves converted into educational hobo jungles," he warned. Fortunately, Congress ignored that distinguished educator (as well as some others with similar concerns) and passed the GI Bill.

The GI Bill, revised and extended over the years, has continued to serve those who serve the country. But as the military has shrunk, the stresses and demands it places on many of its members have increased, and the toll of war on both body and mind has come to be better understood. The needs are clearer today, and in some ways much greater than in the past. Among them are not just education but rehabilitation, including more counseling and psychiatric help for many veterans still coping with the trauma of warfare. The resources for providing this sort of help are stretched thin. The same fiscal concerns that were voiced when the original GI Bill passed are still operative, the inefficiencies and inadequacies as troubling as always in government programs. But when it comes to "priorities," this one has to be at the top.

Americans haven't always done well by their veterans. After the Civil War, maimed ex-soldiers were often seen selling pencils and shoestrings on city streets. When the Depression struck, World War I veterans marched on Washington demanding early payment of a promised bonus, and were dispersed, with bloodshed, by their own Army.

Today veterans are much honored and better cared for than in the past. But their unemployment rate is higher than that of the rest of society, and the difficulties of readjustment to everyday life still trouble many of them. These are concerns that go beyond the reach of government to the understanding and commitment of individuals and entire communities, with the hope being the same one that inspired creators of the GI Bill 65 years ago: providing veterans the opportunity to better themselves and their country.

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