Veterans' Policies, Veterans' Politics: New Perspectives on Veterans in the Modern United States

By Stephen R. Ortiz | Go to book overview

11
Conventional and Distinctive Policy Preferences
of Early-Twenty-First-Century Veterans

JEREMY M. TEIGEN

What policy preferences does today’s veteran population seek, and are they different than those of nonveterans? The policy desires of U.S. military veterans have occasionally appeared very clear. The drive for federal pensions in the late nineteenth century and the push for the G.I. Bill in the twentieth century are obvious successes driven by veterans and their political allies. The educational and civic advantage conferred by these programs for the World War II generation is difficult to overstate.1 But as the other chapters in this volume demonstrate amply in multiple historical contexts, the politics of veteran-specific policy debates contribute to a complicated, mixed legacy across different issue arenas. In terms of health care, disability benefits, pensions, educational programs, and labor issues, the federal government has occasionally delivered tailored benefits, but the process is hardly the result of a simple reaction to clear preferences held by veterans in the electorate. Democratic governments promise to deliver policies ostensibly based on public opinion, but attributing responsibility for a policy victory simply to “veterans’ preferences” is difficult because the organizational influence of pressure groups can be strong, and policies may also be favored by the public at large or other policy elites. Conversely, opposition groups, whether a minority or majority opinion, may confound creation of veteran-specific policy.

Because of the complicated and sporadic nature of veteran policy creation, and the lack of historical polling data, it is difficult to understand past veterans’ political attitudes from events such as the G.I. Bill or its antecedents. Extrapolating veterans’ preferences from these historical policy victories to understand the veteran population of today is even more difficult. Since the end of conscription in 1973 and the lack of conflicts requiring large conscript armies, the military and the subsequent veteran population have not been the focus of significant political battles, either for candidates or for a particular policy agenda. While veterans’ symbolic role in American politics (within policy cre-

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