10/26/2012 10:47 am ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

Election Day and Veterans Day: Time to Make the Connection

Nov. 6 will be our national Election Day -- a day on which we select the elected officials to represent us in Washington, D.C. Nov. 11 will be Veterans Day -- a day to honor and show respect for those who have served in our military forces.

In this election, and in every election going forward, it is essential that we send a message to all candidates running for office that our veterans are respected and honored best when their interests and needs are placed above political wrangling in the halls of Congress. That has normally been the case. And, even in these contentious times, legislation benefiting veterans has been one of the areas that has enjoyed bipartisan support. For example, as the Stars and Stripes reported on Sept. 19, 2012: "Last year, Congress passed sweeping veterans jobs legislation that created new vocational rehabilitation services, a new mid-career retraining program for veterans and tax credits for businesses that employ former service members."

Unfortunately, in this national election year, bipartisanship went by the wayside as the Senate was wrapping up its session before returning home. On Sept. 19, Senate Republicans blocked the Veterans Jobs Corp Act of 2012 (the Act called for employing veterans as police, firefighters and in Civilian Conservation Corps type programs) due to a budgetary point of order which required 60 votes to move the bill forward for consideration.

The vote was basically along party lines. ll 51 Democrats voted Yea along with five Republicans (Scott Brown, MA; Lisa Murkowski, AK; Dean Heller, NV; and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, ME) and Independents (Joe Lieberman, CT; and Bernie Sanders, VT). Republicans Mark Kirk, IL; and James Inhofe, OK did not vote on the matter; the remainder of the Republicans voted Nay.

The party line split is not unusual but the unraveling was. As the Examiner stated, "The outcome of this vote was a staggering reversal of previous Republican support a week earlier when on a September 11 vote to move S. 3457, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor with 95 Yeas to 1 Nay." Then, on Sept. 13, Rand Paul, KY, held up the bill -- which had "bipartisan support" according to Politico -- by filibustering to gain support for the release of a Pakistani doctor who helped locate Osama bin Laden.

Senator Paul's intervention launched a congressional and political process that eventually led to the consignment of the Veterans Job Corps Bill to the graveyard of failed legislation. Senator Patty Murray attempted to resuscitate the legislation by incorporating all Republican provisions including North Carolina's Richard Burr's alternative legislation but to no avail.

As might be expected, following the vote, there was considerable finger pointing. The Democrats said the bill was rejected because the idea for it had originated in the White House and Bill Nelson, the lead sponsor said it was "blocked on a technicality." The Republicans provided a variety of reasons for stopping the bill's progress -- including the assertions that the bill exceeded the VA's budgeted authority and job training programs don't always achieve desired results.

The most revealing comments, however, came from Sen. Burr who stated, "I introduced a substitute amendment because I felt the Democrats' bill was more focused on their electoral desires than actual real world outcomes for veterans." And, Tom Coburn (OK) who declared, "Is this about veterans, or is this about politicians? I suspect it's about politicians and not veterans."

Was the bill presented for political reasons? Was the bill rejected for political reasons? Those are questions that we cannot answer because we are neither mind nor motive-readers.

The question we can answer, with certainty, however, is that there is an absolute need for a piece of jobs legislation and even more comprehensive legislation to address the emerging and escalating needs of our veterans. The opinions of veterans' groups and the preponderance of the evidence provide overwhelming support for this conclusion.

Let's begin with the veterans' groups and their opinions on the Veterans Job Corps Act. The Act to create jobs for veterans was unanimously supported by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that in September the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans stood at 9.7 percent compared to the national average of 7.8 percent and that the 12-month average for these veterans stood at 10.4 percent. Jobs are just at the tip of the veterans' needs iceberg, however.

Consider the following tragic statistics:

  • On any given night in the United States, 76,000 veterans are homeless and 145,000 veterans use homeless housing programs every year
  • 1.5 million veteran households are using food stamps available through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • More than 600,000 veterans may be struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Department of Veterans Affairs has diagnosed more than 200,000 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans with PTSD.
  • The VA believes that the suicide rate for all veterans is more than 500 per month.

Behind each of these statistics is a human story. These stories and our individual veterans must not be ignored. The plight of our post-9/11 veterans is a ticking time bomb and a national tragedy.

In the final presidential debate, President Obama shone a bright light on the need to assist these veterans and to "free up some resources" to put them "back to work" and to "make sure they are getting the care they need... ". This need must be addressed by Congress whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is our next president. Our veterans deserve and must be given unequivocal and apolitical support.

If an active duty military member commits a serious offense, he or she is given a dishonorable or general discharge. Likewise, we as voters need to discharge those elected officials who are AWOL or derelict in their duty regarding veterans and replace them with ones who will put our veterans and not politics first. We can start doing that this year by casting our ballots in a manner which makes a direct connection between Election Day and Veterans Day.

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