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SPOTLIGHT
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Jobs for veterans

Published on -9/25/2012, 6:18 AM

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Having an unemployment rate hovering around 8 percent as long as it has frustrates everybody, although none more so than active job-seekers. Jobs bills designed to help alleviate the situation go nowhere in Washington, D.C., where partisan gridlock has ground to a halt even the most necessary and sensible legislation.

We wouldn't have guessed an attempt to get veterans back to work would suffer the same fate, but it has. A bill designed to address the even-higher 11 percent unemployment rate suffered by those returning from military service in Iraq and Afghanistan received majority support in the Senate -- but not enough to move it forward. Fifty-eight favorable votes simply weren't enough to establish a $1 billion jobs program placing veterans in local police and fire departments as well as working on federal lands.

As Americans, we should be disgusted with Congress. The advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America certainly is.

"This bill was smart bipartisan policy that would put veterans back into service for their communities as policemen, firefighters and first responders," said the group's founder and chief executive, Paul Rieckhoff. "Iraq and Afghanistan veterans should not have to wait until 2013 for critical support from Congress."

With Congress adjourned until at least the Nov. 6 election, it appears veterans will have to wait.

There are currently 720,000 unemployed veterans across the nation, including 220,000 who have served since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That these proud service members came back and are able to work is fortunate. Thousands of their comrades did not. Tens of thousands more returned wounded.

The veterans deserve more than their medals, discharge paperwork and a paid-for funeral down the road. These Americans put their lives on the line to carry out ideologically unsound wars and occupations. They carried out their duty with courage. Surely we should honor their commitment to country with something more than temporary unemployment benefits.

The chairwoman of the Senate Veterans' Affair Committee agrees. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the nation owes veterans "more than just a pat on the back for their service. We owe them action."

But 40 of her colleagues apparently don't see it that way. These GOP lawmakers, including Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, were able to block an attempt to waive existing budget rules needed to fund the program. Sixty votes were necessary to overcome the procedural hurdle, needed even though offsetting costs had been identified.

Five Republican senators did join ranks with Democrats to move the measure forward. They simply weren't enough to overcome a bloc that considers the legislation flawed and unaffordable.

"... (W)hy should Americans trust us when we keep using gimmicks and budget sleight of hand to hide more spending and drive the country further into debt?" said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

"We ought to do nothing now that makes the problem worse for our kids and grandkids," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Really? The nation can spend almost a trillion dollars fighting these unwinnable wars -- and then tell the men and women returning from action that we can't afford a mere billion to get them back in the work force?

For shame.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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