By Marshall Garvey
One of the most pressing issues facing America today is that of veterans affairs. As thousands of U.S. troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA Department has struggled to keep up with providing the benefits and health care they’ll need. Moreover, as the economy continues to struggle after the 2008 “great recession,” many veterans lack job security, a sad departure from the promise of prosperity established by the G.I. Bill in 1944.
Being elected during the Vietnam War, President Nixon not only deftly handled veterans affairs, but also prioritized work stability of returning soldiers. As the war wound down in the early 70s, more than two million Americans who had either been in the Armed Forces or had worked in the defense-related industries were returning to the civilian job market. To address this emerging issue, as well as ensure economic prosperity during an era of inflation, President Nixon enacted programs like the Emergency Employment Act. This act provided one billion dollars to generate more than a quarter of a million jobs and the creation of a public service employment program.
Even with a tremendous growth in jobs, however, President Nixon realized the commitment to Vietnam troops could only be fulfilled if veterans qualified for those positions. On October 24, 1972, he signed two critical veterans benefits bills. The first dealt with increasing access to job training and education. After observing GI Bill statistics in 1969, he was disappointed to find that only 900,000 Vietnam veterans had taken advantage of the law’s educational opportunities. With the number of returning troops increased to two million, he wanted more than ever to ensure the same access to benefits World War II and Korea veterans received. The second bill addressed VA hospitals, seeking to provide better care for current veterans and anyone who might use them in the future.
While touching on the economic importance of both government and business employing veterans, President Nixon also paid a well-earned debt of gratitude towards them and the legacy of all veterans in previous wars. In his words,
“I think that it is time for us to think, not just on Veterans Day, but on every day of the year, that this country owes a debt of gratitude to 29 million living American veterans who fought for this country in World War I, in World War II, in Korea and Vietnam, not for glory, not for conquest, but fought for the survival of freedom and fought against aggression. Of this we can all be proud, and we can give them the honor they are due.”
In these difficult economic times, President Obama and Congress could do well in following Nixon’s honorable and successful initiative in providing economic opportunity and security to all returning soldiers.