Analyzing the $1 Billion for the Veterans Job Corps -- Part II

02/16/2012 01:50 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2012
  • Stacy Bare Climber, Skier, Sometimes Surfer, Director of Sierra Club Outdoors, OIF Veteran

This is the first of two posts that will discuss in further detail Obama's proposed $1 billion for the Veterans Job Corps.

Part of President Obama's proposal to put veterans back to work when they come home from war announced two weeks ago includes $1 billion dollars to put up to 20,000 veterans to work rebuilding the infrastructure of our public land system in the United States. Since this proposal has been announced two weeks ago, it has been met with exultation, anger, frustration, cautious optimism, and accusations of a political prank.

In some very lively discussions I've had with a number of veterans, currently serving military personnel, and military family members, my hope is to outline over the next few blogs what some of the chief complaints, and benefits are against this proposal are and explain why I still think it's a great idea. First to the problems:

• Promotes one group (veterans) at the expense of others (non-veterans) leading to a
feeling of entitlement amongst veterans over their non-veteran counterparts
• Creates additional spending and is not sustainable
• Belittles veteran skill sets and 'insults them' by asking them to do manual labor, while
only serving a maximum of 20,000 veterans, leaving 10s or 100s of thousands still

I am hoping that others will jump in on the comments section below and help further expand both the challenges and opportunities they see with this proposal. For now though, focusing in on these larger categories, I agree to a point that these are all legitimate concerns. I am also responding without any deeper knowledge about the types of jobs Obama will be proposing for veterans beyond what he stated as removing invasive species and rebuilding infrastructure etc. So yes, many of these jobs will require physical labor, and the way I do the math, it is unlikely that all 20,000 jobs would be full time, year round jobs.

First and foremost, it seems like an acknowledgement from our most senior political leadership that the outdoor experience and continued service are of the utmost value to our returning veteran population. Here alone I applaud the president. The proposal right now is also unfunded as far as I can tell, but if it were:

$1 billion dollars could get you 20,000 jobs that each paid out an annual income of $10,000 for five years. If I'm doing my math wrong, someone please help me out. Anyone really worried about creating a sense of entitlement amongst the veteran community for these jobs should be quickly dissuaded by looking at the basic math of the proposal. However, the larger question of whether or not there exists a sense of entitlement amongst the veteran community is something that does need to be addressed, but not in this post.

The point is that these jobs are an opportunity to deliberately ensure our men and women have some form of employment, for at best, a limited amount of time when they come home from war or leave the service. It helps to fill a transition period for veterans between service to their country and whatever will be the next chapter in the individual veteran's life.

Additionally, these jobs provide the veteran with an introduction to the larger number of careers and opportunities that exist in employment on our public lands, or similar jobs in the private sector. They will allow veterans an opportunity to get outside and fully experience a portion of the public lands they defended and in so doing, will be completing a number of important infrastructure projects that needed to be done.

The only difference is that these jobs are being deliberately targeted towards veterans to help provide a hand up, versus a hand out.

My hope is that the program will integrate with, or at least be based on, existing models of conservation corps work targeted at veterans like Veterans Green Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, Veterans Conservation Corps, and the California Conservation Corps. And if you've ever been with a conservation crew, you know these jobs are not easy, but require real, hard work.