Where’s the Love for Our Veterans?

The nation’s legions of homeless or near-homeless veterans make a mockery of all of those “support the troops” bumper stickers and other symbols of faux patriotism conservative blowhards like to flaunt — which is why right-wing mouthpiece Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel has invested so much in the effort to convince his viewers that the phenomenon of homeless veterans is a myth sprung from the liberal mind of former Sen. John Edwards.

A definitive report on the subject of homeless veterans—compiled by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and based largely on statistics from federal, state and local agencies—has been around since November, and it effectively debunks the dissembling of the O’Reilly spin machine. It is also a stark testament to how much damage conservative government as done to the support services that, if properly funded, would get many of these veterans off the streets—ranging from subsidized housing to mental health services.

But leave it to Robert Greenwald to bring the statistics, and O’Reilly’s unconscionable rants, into sharp, visceral focus. First, his Brave New Films produced a video that graphically puts to shame O’Reilly’s ridicule of Edwards, who highlighted the homelessness alliance findings while running for president earlier this year. How he is ratcheting up the issue with a Valentine’s Day demonstration at the mouth of the beast— the Fox News Channel studios in midtown Manhattan.

At the front of the line will be the homeless veterans that O’Reilly denies exists.

According to a press release, “the vets will demand that O’Reilly stop denying the problem of homelessness among former servicemen and women, quit referring to homeless vets as drug addicts, and set the record straight on the challenges veterans face when they return from military service.”

The demonstration comes after repeated calls by organizations that work with homeless veterans for O’Reilly to retract his statements. So far, O’Reilly hasn’t. Instead, Brave New Films recounts this incident:

A delegation of homeless veterans from Fitzgerald House, an organization that provides housing and assistance to veterans, visited FOX News two weeks ago to hand deliver the petition, signed by over 18,000 people. There they were confronted by O’Reilly’s producer Jesse Watters, who ridiculed them for not having watched O’Reilly’s program on television in spite of the fact that these were people without a roof over their heads, much less cable TV. The next day, O’Reilly, who had not come down to meet with the delegation, went on air to call the vets “confused,” saying that he felt “sorry for those guys” and that they were being “used.”

The report by the homelessness alliance details how Bush administration programs have fallen far short of adequately funding services for homeless veterans, from shelter needs to mental health.

But when it comes to supporting our veterans, the conservative failure doesn’t stop there. McClatchy Newspaper columnist Joseph Galloway writes in his latest column:

If a society is judged by the way it treats its military veterans, then we who live in the richest nation in the world and those who lead us should be condemned for our shameful neglect and callous disregard for those who defend us.

When 15 million Johnnies came marching home from World War II, a package of benefits enacted in 1944 and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt was waiting for them, extending assistance for education, unemployment and the purchase of a house or a business.

More than half of those who served in World War II—8 million of the 15 million veterans of that war—signed up and had their college tuitions or technical school fees paid by Uncle Sam. They also received monthly checks to cover housing and food.

It was expensive, but for every dollar the U.S. Government spent on educational benefits for WWII veterans, the government recouped between $5 and $12 in taxes paid on the higher incomes earned by college graduates, says the Congressional Research Service.

Contrast that, Galloway goes on to write, to today’s efforts to beef up GI educational benefits:

Sen. James Webb, D-Virginia, a Vietnam veteran, has been doggedly pursuing passage of a new GI Bill aimed at helping these new wartime veterans get that education by giving them much the same educational benefits that were extended to their grandfathers after WWII.

Under his bill, which has attracted three dozen other sponsors, the government would resume paying full college tuition for these veterans for a period linked to their times in uniform, but for no more than 36 months or four academic years. Every eligible college veteran also would receive a check for $1,000 a month to help cover living expenses.

This would cost the government about $2 billion a year, which is about what we’re presently spending every 36 hours in Iraq.

President George W. Bush and the Pentagon oppose any such improvement of this miserly benefit for our young veterans. Why? The president says it would cost too much and be too hard to administer, and he’s threatened to veto Webb’s bill if it ever passes.

There is a pattern here. The conservative movement loves to wrap itself around its supposed love and respect for the military, but over the last seven years it has consistently failed to put its money where its mouth is. Even for those who have given life and limb for their country, it seems that conservatives would rather say “You’re on your own” and turn their backs than do the hard work of solving the problems veterans face when they return from war.

We need to hasten the day in which it would be the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world whose views would be relegated to a dark, cold space under a bridge.

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