In the Arena

What About the Veterans?

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Bill Kristol is absolutely right that Mitt Romney made a major mistake last night, mentioning neither the war in Afghanistan nor the troops who have fought there and in Iraq. Kristol and I would probably disagree on Afghanistan: I think Obama has, finally, chosen the right course–get the troops out and continue the effort as a special forces war. (Romney, I suspect, understands that most people agree with me on that one.)

But what about the troops? The Obama Administration’s slow uptake on the need to treat the psychological effects of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries has been scandalous. 

The Administration belatedly released an executive order today, attempting to rectify much of the neglect within the VA system, but the problem is monstrous and the need is immediate–why not issue vouchers to any veteran looking for psychological counseling as Michael O’Hanlon, General Jack Kean and Robert Morgenthau argued in the Wall Street Journal in July?

(PHOTOS: Republican National Convention 2012)

Why hasn’t the Administration moved with greater speed to get the military to provide official credentials and licenses to its skilled workers–the truck drivers, electricians, welders, medical technicians, computer geeks and so forth–so that they can move directly into the workforce when they leave the service? (And why hasn’t the President put the arm on the nation’s governors to accept the military certification–there’s no reason why a military truck driver, who spent several tours dodging IEDs, should have to spend $10,000 and six months getting a license to drive I-80 in Ohio.)

And, again, where has VA Secretary Eric Shinseki been when it comes to promoting the extraordinary young men and women who are emerging from the military with the leadership skills and can-do sensibility to move our nation? Why isn’t he–or some other high-profile advocate–out there every day, traveling the country, highlighting the stories of the highly skilled veterans who are helping major companies, and local governments, to get the job done?

We are in the midst of a plague. We are losing one active-duty member of the military each day to suicide. The numbers for returning veterans are hard to come by, but assumed to be much higher. There are many others who are severely debilitated and need help. There are even larger numbers who are whole, and skilled, and ready for work but suffer from the “crazy veteran” stigma imposed on them by the media. Those of us who know these kids, who spent time embedded with them in war zones or are their parents (as Kristol is), are equally impressed by the qualities they have to offer our country and appalled by the Administration’s inaction when it comes to helping them along. This was an obvious case for Romney to make, and he did not make it. He didn’t mention our veterans at all. Now it falls to the President: Will he take more dramatic action to rectify this situation–Tom Brokaw calls it a “national moral crisis”–immediately? Today’s executive order is a good step, but it is not nearly enough.