Veterans' Plight Can Be Traced to Demographics: Solution May Lie in Revival of Draft

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I have been following the erosion of veterans' status within the federal government over the years, as well as the more current struggles being highlighted in your column and various other publications. Obviously, the basis for the decline is structural as much as political.

Demographics are working against America's veterans. The nationally shared experience of World War II is quickly fading from our collective memory. One only has to look at the biographies of current public officials to understand the decline of support for veterans' issues. Veterans in public service appear to be an endangered species.

This systemic neglect and indifference toward front-line defenders of our way of life speaks dubiously about the character of America, both as a society and as a nation. Being identified as a "veteran" is almost a pejorative labeling from many of those who did not serve.

We have compounded this anti-veteran attitude by the convenient fig leaf of a volunteer armed service. This concept has eliminated the societal cross-section benefit that is realized from sharing a common and meritorious military experience.

In most federal agencies, there is a vast gap between those recruited for middle level and senior positions and those who served in our armed services. I suppose this has always been the case and will remain so; i.e., there will always be the "food chain" aspect to any society. However, for a brief period in our national history, the shared responsibility of defending our nation was a proud experience in which individuals from different stations in life could share and find mutual respect for one another.

My point is that the recruitment problem for veterans in federal hiring has much to do with the lack of veterans at higher levels within the organization. In other words, as much as there is a growing "not welcome" mat out for veterans at federal agencies, there is also a lack of warranted upward mobility for those who honorably served their country.

This situation contributes to the plight of qualified veterans seeking federal employment. Former service members lucky enough to be working for Uncle Sam more often than not must go to the back of the line when it comes to meaningful advancement.

Gerald B.

Brunswick, Md.

Dear Gerald:

I totally agree with your conclusions, and the sarge foresees a draft a'coming. With morale low and recruitment down in the ranks of a military inundated with single parents, a combat scenario looks bleak. This, combined with reserve and National Guard components being physically, mentally and logistically unprepared in the force structure, will render our volunteer forces inadequate.

In the immediate future, relief appears on the way for those veterans currently employed or seeking employment in the federal work force. Recently the House unanimously passed the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1997 (this effort was spearheaded by Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican). Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by fellow Vietnam veterans Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, and Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.

According to Mr. Cleland, "While we live in a time of relative peace, the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform who serve in or near combat are just as great. …