In our opinion: Bill helps Utah make good on promise to assist returning veterans

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

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A bill before the Utah Legislature that would bolster programs that help military veterans rejoin civilian life comes at a perfect moment, as plans are formulated to soon bring 34,000 American troops back from service in Afghanistan.

A measure sponsored by Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, would reauthorize a statewide task force assigned to facilitate programs aimed at helping veterans reintegrate into their communities. Such programs are of considerable value to veterans, but not all service men and women are aware of them. Some, for various reasons, choose not to avail themselves of the opportunities.

As a result, we hear about the physical, emotional and economic difficulties many veterans face when back on home soil. For Utah to not doing what it can to abate those problems would be an inappropriate recompense for soldiers who braved many dangers in service to their country.

Reauthorizing the Veterans Reintegration Task Force is not a measure that brings fiscal worry. There are long-term costs associated with treating veterans for problems resulting from unsuccessful reintegration. By helping to avoid that eventuality, the work of the task force at least pays for itself.

Knudson's research found that while programs are up and running, there is a general lack of communication and coordination among the various agencies. As a result, there are inefficiencies and an occasional duplication of efforts. An integral part of a solution involves training people to serve as mentors for individual veterans, assisting them in efforts to find jobs, continue their educations and locate other necessary services.

The labyrinth of programs administered by state and federal agencies can be difficult to navigate, particularly for those left unsettled by the abrupt return home after time in combat zones. Veterans also are a proud lot who often are reluctant to ask for assistance. An approach that affords veterans a single point of interface for the various avenues open to them is an effective use of public resources and a laudably proactive approach to head off bigger problems later.

Through history, our record of helping veterans upon their return from duty has rarely been a source of national pride. In previous conflicts, policy was such that with the exception of medical care, soldiers were essentially left to fend for themselves. The results of that policy remain visible. A disproportionately large segment of the nation's homeless population, for example, is composed of military veterans.

Veterans programs exist as part of a straightforward and implied bargain with those in uniform. You fight four your country and your ought to expect that your country will do what it can to help you return to a normal life.

Knudson's bill helps Utah make good on that promise. With yet another wave of returning soldiers on the horizon, there is no reason why it should not go forward fully and promptly.

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