Each year on November 11, we recognize the sacrifices and contributions made by our veterans. While support of our veterans is heartfelt by everyday working people, that has not always been the case with some of our elected politicians and others.
President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, the “GI Bill of Rights,” into law in June 1944. The act provided millions of veterans with up to four years of education or training, plus a monthly allowance. The act also offered them federally guaranteed home, farm and business loans with no down payment and provided for unemployment compensation of $20 weekly for up to 52 weeks for veterans who had served 90 days or more.
GI Bill criticized
Believe it or not, the bill had many critics. In the House, Rep. John Rankin, the chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, was against the unemployment benefits that the bill provided. Rankin was quoted fearing a “tremendous inducement to certain elements to try to get employment compensation. It is going to be very easy… to induce these people to get on federal relief.” Another Rankin comment, suggesting the proposal would reward those who delayed seeking work: “The bane of the British Empire has been the dole system.” He also had the following racist comment attributed to him saying: “If every white serviceman in Mississippi… could read this so-called GI Bill, I don’t believe there would be 1 in 20 who would approve of it… We have 50,000 Negroes in the service from our state and in my opinion, if the bill should pass in its present form, a vast majority of them would remain unemployed for at least another year, and a great many white men would do the same.”
These are certainly deplorable comments to make about anyone, but it’s hard to believe that a U.S. Congressman could make these comments about our soldiers returning from war.
Mistreatment of veterans returning from the Vietnam War went beyond politicians. While many people treated them with the respect they deserved, there were also many that cursed them, and even spat on them. Some veterans were denied VA benefits they were entitled to. In 1974, veterans resorted to holding a demonstration for benefits for all veterans, including Vietnam veterans.
Mental illness treatment, trauma and injury, and suicide prevention are all important topics in the veteran community. And, while the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities around the country do much for our veterans with the funding they receive from Congress, long waits at VA facilities seem to be the norm rather than the exception.
In fact, a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed that veterans still had unacceptably long wait times in order to receive treatment.
Naturally, there are those who advocate for privatizing the VA. But many veterans organizations oppose privatization. It’s not the quality of care that’s at issue here. The issue is lack of funding from Congress. There is no excuse for underfunding the VA while Congress votes for tax breaks for billionaires!
UMAP puts veterans to work
There are many organizations that offer help to our veterans. As utility workers, we can all be proud of the accomplishments of the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program (UMAP). There is no greater help we can give to our veterans than a job. Through the UWUA Power for America Training Trust, UMAP has not just found jobs for veterans, but careers in the utility industry. To date, nearly 600 veterans have been trained and hired into the utility industry.
While the UWUA continues to do what it can to provide employment for veterans, funding for the VA remains at grossly inadequate levels. So the next time you see a soldier in uniform, along with thanking them for their service to this country, think about contacting your representative in Congress, and urge them to increase funding for the VA.