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Edward Flattau Headshot

Outdoors Largesse

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President Obama's proposed conservation-oriented Jobs Corps for unemployed veterans (VJC) is demeaning to the soldiers and a waste of money we don't have. That is the view of the conservative Washington Times newspaper (WAT) as expressed in a Feb. 6 editorial -- and it's no surprise.

In the eyes of his most strident conservative critics, Obama can never get it right, no matter how worthwhile his initiatives appear on their face. Denouncing the president's proposed VJC in his new budget is a classic case of conservative kneejerk negativity.

What's not to like about the VJC? Providing employment for more than 20,000 jobless veterans over the next five years through a $1 billion program to upgrade public lands seems like a noble enough enterprise.

Not to the WAT editorial board. They condemn Obama for relegating unemployed veterans to vocations that are primarily "unskilled manual labor".

"Drop your rifle and grab a shovel," the WAT editorial archly intones.

Yet the jobs that the VJC would ask veterans to do for their $50,000-a-year salary would be a far cry from the menial tasks that the newspaper ascribes to the program. Veterans would be acquiring skills that could serve them well in such wide ranging careers as tourism, social work, agriculture, landscaping, and law enforcement. Among the broad array of jobs offered by the VJC would be restoring habitat, maintaining public lands, supervising visitors programs, serving as park rangers, and functioning as outreach workers in inner city public recreation centers. The government would be "killing two birds with one stone." Both the veterans and the public facilities need work!

Not content with belittling the VJC'S merit, the WAT editorial board sought to reinforce its viewpoint by asserting no veteran unemployment crisis existed. The newspaper's rationale is hard to fathom, considering the U.S, Department of Labor sets Gulf War veterans' unemployment rate at a disheartening 11.5 percent. Just as perplexing is the newspaper's reassurance that any veterans' unemployment is no big deal because it is only high the first year out of the service and 12 months later drops below the national average. Even if that were the case, what are veterans supposed to do when they are discharged from active duty? Sleep penniless under a bridge or live in a parked car (as all too many do) until that magic day a year later when the job offers start rolling in?

When one is introduced to a veteran these days, the typical first words out of one's mouth to the ex-soldier are "Thank you for your service." But for the WAT, gratitude ends with that salutation. Veterans are perceived in terms of dollars and cents rather than flesh and blood. The newspaper complains that the nation lacks the money to fund the VJC, and what we are witnessing is just another example of Obama's reckless spending.

But as President Obama points out, the program's billion dollar cost is a pittance compared to the money being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. With those wars winding down, he proposes to us some of the savings to fund domestic initiatives such as the VJC, with the remainder being allocated to reduce the deficit.

The WAT and many leading conservatives remain unconvinced. They contend the nation would not be living within its means were it to fund the VJC. On the contrary, the nation would not be living within its means if it failed to fund the VJC.