Members of Congress and President Bush have vowed that veterans of the Persian Gulf war will not be treated shabbily, as their parents and older relatives were when they returned from Vietnam.
Such avowals are hollow when specific benefits do not accrue to those who carried the real burden of war.Several pieces of legislation should be pressed on an emergency basis in Congress.
- Families where reservists were called to active duty or where those in the regular armed forces were sent to combat are suffering serious financial burdens to the point where single parents are losing their houses or finding themselves on food stamps.
Congress should pass emergency legislation granting these families tax holidays, mortgage and rent grants, clothing and child-care allowances.
- The charge is made that young Americans, especially blacks, join the armed forces because they cannot find work in the civilian sector.
It is time to put teeth into the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, which was supposed to guarantee jobs to all Americans, but with special preference given to those who have served in the armed forces.
The Humphrey-Hawkins Act should be amended to include an appropriation equal to 10 percent of the defense budget - about $30 billion - linked to a full employment program.
This would not only benefit veterans but would rebuild our sagging social and physical infrastructure.
- Our health system is a shambles adversely affecting the bottom 35 percent of the economic scale, exactly the group from which the bulk of our armed forces has been drawn.
Existing legislation should be overhauled.
We should open up health and hospital services to veterans' families, with an emphasis on preventive care.
Veterans hospitals are in various stages of neglect and need immediate help.
- The Montgomery Act now pays $300 a month for three years to veterans who return to school after they have served three years.
This paltry amount does not begin to cover tuition and books.
Rep. Sonny Montgomery, D-Miss., now proposes to increase benefits to those who serve more than three years to $400 a month and give reservists $200 a month.
These amounts are still far less than what a private kindergarten costs on a monthly basis.
Unless our respect for veterans soon translates into tangible benefits for them and their families, it will be fair to conclude that the powerful have no interest in providing equal opportunity and justice in our society even though they are prepared to spend the lives of young men and women from the poorer classes and middle America.
(Marcus Raskin is a distinguished fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.)