The War We Don’t Have to Fight… Hopefully…

Paul Evans

22 veterans a day are committing suicide because they don’t see another alternative – and the war in Afghanistan isn’t even over yet. Just wait until the 9/11 warrior generation has to make sense of being sent to war (while everyone else went to the mall), for two wars that in the end have far too little to show for the sacrifices made. Our veterans have served mulitple tours over the past decade in conditions most of us would not accept and cannot understand. They went because We the People sent them... Our veterans are not seeking special treatment, but rather the tools for reintegrating into the society they helped defend. Given the sacrifice of blood and time, 5% of the Lottery seems like a pretty fair deal.

This week a bill that would provide the People of Oregon with an opportunity to vote for securing necessary resources for critical veterans’ services was “dropped.” Soon it will be given a number and sent to a committee.

Mike Francis from the Oregonian explains that the measure seeks to set-aside 5% of the proceeds of the Oregon Lottery (roughly $27 million of the $549 million generated) for education, employment, health care, housing, transportation, and other critical programming for the 330,000 veterans living in neighborhoods (and under bridges) throughout Oregon.

It is a bill that received significant bipartisan support: 41 cosigners in the house, 19 in the senate. And if the bill were to be voted upon today – it would likely pass both chambers.

However, it appears that some may be silently conspiring to kill this measure (and those like it). I hope this is merely a nasty rumor. Evidence of such skullduggery would be easy to identify and track.

It would be manifest in the emergence of a vague narrative targeting the scale, shape, or size of the measure – but not the purpose. Whisper campaigns depend upon staying in the shadows limiting the risk for being identified as an anti-veteran interest.

There are a few legitimate issues with the measure. Some will argue that lottery proceeds should not be used to help veterans because such policy would encourage gambling among an at-risk population. That is a sound argument – for abolishing the lottery. It is a harder task to justify some programs over others – all funded through addiction-building.

Others will argue that veterans should wait – until the economy strengthens for such ambitious efforts. That too is a sound argument if the economy is contracting and budget revenues are being cut. But there is a projected increase in revenues. We have been waiting and we have waited long enough.

Over the past years the veterans’ services agenda has made great progress – but on the edges. Veteran advocates understood the financial quagmire Oregon faced and sought to find solutions that could be implemented through leveraging resources and extraordinary partnerships.

The low hanging fruit is now long gone.

A little over four years ago, Governor Kulongoski’s Task Force on Veterans’ Services identified the needs and potential funding sources associated with a comprehensive approach to programming.

A little over three years ago, we were told to seek alternatives to General Fund resources.

In 2012 we were told that the alternative funding source identified was not an acceptable choice.

This year Governor Kitzhaber has endorsed a plan to offer a veterans’ game within the current Lottery programming. He should be commended for this decision. It could help realize $300,000 to $500,000 for critical needs. However, this first step cannot be the last.

Not so long ago the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs had over 400 employees throughout the State of Oregon, there are less than 100 now. This is a measure of our relative commitment to veterans – during a time of prolonged combat operations overseas. We had more ODVA resources during peacetime…

It must be understood that the proceeds from this measure would not be a “full-employment program” for ODVA but rather apportioned throughout the education, employment, health care, housing, and transportation networks. We have developed robust networks and partnerships that steward resources well – we just need the resources to make these advancements accessible for the veteran community.

After considering the politics I am certain that voters will have the opportunity to secure veterans funding in 2014. I hope the Legislature will pass it to the ballot. If this does not happen because the power brokers in Salem kill it, it will likely be sent to the ballot in 2014 with a larger price – and be passed in no small part because of the intransigence of the leadership in Salem.

This is a fight we do not need; a fight we should not want. The older I get the more I recognize I do not know. But I do know this: I would not want to be the legislator blamed for denying the voters of Oregon an opportunity to secure funding for our returning heroes. It is a fool’s errand with no upside and a lot of downside.

For good or ill, the last few years out of government has taught me a few things. Chief among these lessons is that “inside the building” rationale – doesn’t always play well – outside the hallowed halls of Capitolville.

Main Street will not see the $27 million price tag for veterans as an unreasonable amount.

Truth be told, there are some people hoping this measure fails in the Capitol so that a Faustian Choice of “Parks or Veterans” can be offered to the voters – and likely done so with a partisan twist.

As a former mayor, school board member, and current classroom teacher – I get the arguments associated with resources. More than most, I understand the impacts of budgets upon our children, communities, and environment.

That said, with the anticipated uptick in projected revenue, I know it will be a hard sell in 2014 to justify a vote denying veterans services – when we had more money than originally anticipated.

In 2014 we will be ending our experience in Afghanistan, our own troops (just mobilized) will be recently returned, and the 30,000 or more to be cut from the active duty force as a result of the reorganization in the Department of Defense will be struggling through reintegration in our communities and neighborhoods.

We have all become accustomed to the interest groups flexing their respective muscles during April and May – it is time where the halls of Capitolville are flooded with concerned citizens seeking to demonstrate their commitment to the cause. In many ways it is a fun time because citizens from across the state come to participate in their government.

Veterans have already demonstrated their commitment; we carry it with us every day. Over the past several years we have been content to allow the government to do the right thing – when it could. But we still carry the memory of “The Bonus Army” and we are weary.

This April and May could be the beginning of a very different approach to advocacy. Many of us cannot walk as fast as we once could, and our voices may be softer because of age or injury – but veterans know an honorable fight when we see it – and we know we must act now or watch this latest generation of returning veterans be lost.

22 veterans a day are committing suicide because they don’t see another alternative – and the war in Afghanistan isn’t even over yet. Just wait until the 9/11 warrior generation has to make sense of being sent to war (while everyone else went to the mall), for two wars that in the end have far too little to show for the sacrifices made.

Our veterans have served mulitple tours over the past decade in conditions most of us would not accept and cannot understand. They went because We the People sent them... Our veterans are not seeking special treatment, but rather the tools for reintegrating into the society they helped defend.

Given the sacrifice of blood and time, 5% of the Lottery seems like a pretty fair deal.

Good policy is good politics. We should get this bill passed, quickly and use it as an opportunity to unite our community.

This bill is a win/win/win anyway you slice it. It will happen and it would make far more sense if people across the aisles could work together to make it proof-positive that the Oregon Legislature has the courage to do what’s right.

The fact is that this bill would impact existing programs funded through the Lottery. In the short-term, beaches, economic development, education, fish & wildlife, and parks would have to share.

But the Lottery was always envisioned as a facilitator for resourcing for the General Fund. It started out as an economic development vehicle. And veterans’ services has a demonstrable $1,000.00 (or more) return on investment for every $1.00 in state spending.

Right now we are in the initial stages of a coming fight that doesn’t have to be fought. There are sufficient numbers of the Legislature that have signed onto the bill that left unmolested, it could pass easily.

The concerns about the bill are appropriate and understandable, but insufficient to cause it to fail. The 5% could always be negotiated (a little), but in the end it is a far better thing for us to do through the Legislature than in spite of it.

For the moment there are at least 333,000 eyes watching what comes next.

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