"It should count for more," former platoon sergeant Angel Bermudez—who served six times overseas— told SW last year at a Joint Base Lewis McChord jobs fair. He was talking about the skills veterans can offer employers, as well as their service to their country. Unfortunately, veterans have a tough time competing against college graduates.
Congressional Republicans last week proved unwilling to help, and blocked a veterans' jobs bill sponsored by Washington Senator Patty Murray. The bill would have have allocated $1 billion to help veterans find jobs as police officers, firefighters, and conservation workers in national parks. It would have given special priority to veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent—30 percent higher than that of the general public.
Murray claimed the $1 billion total could have been paid for by cracking down on tax scofflaws, but Republicans questioned that, saying the bill violated a spending cap passed by Congress last year.
As The New York Times pointed out, the GOP speechifying on the bill turned bizarre. Arguing that the bill should be killed, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn asked, "Where is our honor? Where is our valor? Where is our sacrifice?"
What in the world he could have been thinking, given the sacrifice paid most dearly by veterans, is anybody's guess. Then again, logical consistency isn't the Republicans' strong point at the moment. Witness Mitt Romney's railing about half the country and their sense of "entitlement," as if the most outrageous sense of entitlement didn't come from men like himself, who think it's their right to be paid tens of millions of dollars a year while the rest of us sacrifice our way through the Great Recession.
It's particularly disappointing that Arizona Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war who knows more than most about the meaning of sacrifice, helped defeat Murray's bill. Why would he and his colleagues do this, considering the support Republicans normally profess for veterans? Murray yesterday offered an explanation: "This vote is a stark reminder that Sen. [Mitch] McConnell and Senate Republicans are willing to do absolutely anything to fulfill the pledge [they] made nearly two years ago to defeat President Obama," she said in a statement.
She also called attention to the spiraling suicide rate among veterans. We looked into one such suicide last year, that of Staff Sergeant Jared Hagemann. Many factors seem to have contributed to Hagemann's demise, but one may have been the dismal job scene outside of the military. His widow said he wanted to get out, but couldn't find a job worth leaving for.
Hagemann's story brought us to the JBLM job fair, where veterans who had served for decades were realizing that their options in this economy were limited. Said Wayne Fuller, a 57-year-old Afghanistan veteran, referring to the wages he saw on offer: "Eight to 10 dollars an hour, that's about the norm."