By Rick Rogers
One war is over while another winds down.
A more important fight looms at home.
I’m not talking about troops wrestling with Post-Traumatic Stress, but battling unscrupulous predators mining GI Bill gold while delivering nothing but penniless pockets and sour futures.
Soon combat veterans by the hundreds of thousands will join 600,000 comrades already using the GI Bill to forge new lives.
And as these vets return home, sound decisions on education and employment will matter like never before. Decisions no less important to our national interest than the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan — arguably more so.
Education is the key to driving down veteran unemployment – anywhere from 9.5 percent to 30 percent depending on whom you ask – and changing public perceptions.
While Americans respect veterans, a national poll in June also showed half believe most veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress and are also more prone to abusing drugs and alcohol than civilians. Both opinions are factually incorrect.
Maybe more importantly, the public views Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as a particularly uneducated lot.
With commendable foresight, Congress anticipated the weight a generation of fighting men and women would place on the GI Bill and updated the education package, stunning in its generosity.
Unfortunately, the applause most heard when the Post 9/11 GI Bill was signed into law in 2008 sounded like a dinner bell to others.
To give you an idea of the kind of money we are talking about, consider San Diego County.
Every year 30,000 service men and women leave the service here. Most leave with about $50,000 in educational benefits.
That means veterans with roughly $1.5 billion in GI Bill spending power pass through San Diego each and every year.
Don’t think for a minute that sketchy schools with high costs and low graduation rates haven’t noticed.
San Diego is filthy with predatory educational institutions focused on exploiting our most vulnerable veterans with snake-oil offerings.
They prey on those with PTS and brain injury knowing they shy away from interaction with others and would rather sit at a computer screen instead of in a classroom. It’s the equivalent of giving an alcoholic a drink and charging him for therapy.
A few weeks ago the Supreme Court drew the ire of some veteran advocates by shooting down the Stolen Valor Act, a 2006 law that made it a crime to lie about receiving military decorations.
The Supreme Court – correctly in my mind – ruled that while those who claim medals never earned engage in contemptible speech, it is also unfortunately protected speech.
To criminalise lying could lead to unintended consequences worse then the offense.
If only the same advocates would back a law making it a crime to rip-off veterans. That would be a law we could all support.
Rick Rogers has covered defense and veterans issues for nearly 30 years. He hosts Front & Center: Military Talk Radio Sundays, 11 to noon, Pacific Time, on KCBQ AM 1170 (www.kcbq.com). Podcasts at www.DefenseTracker.com. Contact him at (760) 445-3882 or Rick.Rogers@defensetracker.com