Veterans deserve more than parades

By: - November 11, 2015 10:26 am


Steps we should take if we’re really serious about helping those who’ve served our country

American politicians have a strange relationship with those who serve in the military. On the one hand, most love to pay lip service to the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Today, across the country, politicians of all stripes and ideologies will appear at parades and other events to issue solemn pronouncements that lift up and salute veterans.

Last night, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s office distributed a video of this ilk in which, to the accompaniment of soft piano music, the Governor talked of his family members who served in the military, lamented the lack of respect accorded to some Vietnam vets decades ago and listed a couple of modest steps the state has taken in recent years to promote the employment of veterans.

Unfortunately, that will be about as far as things go. As with those who talk up the plight of the hungry in and around Thanksgiving each year and then quickly revert to promoting policies that undermine the social safety net, don’t look for any real and truly difference-making changes in North Carolina policy toward veterans.

If our leaders were truly serious about improving the lives of those who sacrifice so much by serving in the military, they would do a heck of a lot more than what they are doing. Veterans and their families would, for instance, have access to decent and affordable health care, free higher education, affordable housing and, at a bare minimum, be protected from predatory lenders, for-profit colleges and other corporate sharks that seek to take advantage of them.

Access to health care

The health care situation is especially egregious. As Ciara Zachary of the North Carolina Health Access Coalition noted on The Progressive Pulse blog yesterday, tens of thousands of vets in North Carolina lack basic health insurance.

And this is from a statement issued by advocates at Action NC, who held a press event yesterday to highlight the problem:

“Here in North Carolina, Governor McCrory and the GOP-controlled General Assembly have turned their backs on 23,300 NC veterans who would be eligible for Medicaid expansion.

Meanwhile, in Washington, NC’s GOP Congressional delegation has wasted five years of taxpayers’ money fighting to repeal the ACA. The reality is that NC veterans’ families are benefiting from the ACA.

Many people erroneously assume that all of our nation’s 12.5 million non-elderly veterans receive health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs; however, only two-thirds of veterans actually are eligible for VA health care, and only one-third are enrolled.

The statement went on to note that:

  • Not all veterans are eligible for health care services through the Veterans Administration.
  • Nearly half of our currently uninsured veterans now would be receiving the coverage they need had Gov. McCrory not turned away Medicaid expansion funds in 2013.
  • Veterans living in rural areas often have no VA facilities near them.
  • For some veterans, expanding Medicaid would improve their standing in the VA’s priority system.

You really can’t make this up. What other country in the world would fail to provide basic health insurance coverage to so many people who have sacrificed so much for the common good?

Basic consumer protections

Sadly, however, the neglect doesn’t end there. Another classic example in which policy fails to live up to political rhetoric is in the realm of predatory consumer loans. This past summer, the Department of Defense made some headway in protecting active duty military personnel from the scourge or predatory “payday loans” and other similar scams, but amazingly, such protections do not yet apply to another chief target of the con artists – veterans.

As consumer advocates at the Washington, DC-based Center for Responsible Lending explained in a recent memo:

“There are no official statistics on how many veterans get caught in the debt trap of payday lending. Payday lenders don’t ask about veterans’ status when they make their loans, with interest rates that average almost 400 percent.

But we know, based on how they do business generally, that veterans are a key customer base for these legalized loan sharks.

John Warrix, the assistant director of the Franklin County (Ohio) Veterans Service Commission says “Payday lending continues to be a serious problem for a growing number of our clients.”

Study after study shows that payday lenders prey on the poor and vulnerable. And we all know far too well that many of America’s veterans fall into this category.

We also know that payday lenders have no compunction about doing damage to America’s safety and security in the name of the almighty dollar.

For years, they have swarmed military bases, preying on young, often financially unsophisticated service men and women – perfect catches because they had steady paychecks.

A look at where these lenders set up (click link) suggests that veterans in some parts of Florida, for instance, are also being targeted. In Jacksonville, four Veteran Administration facilities are surrounded by upwards of fifty payday lending stores.

The problem got so bad that the Defense Department called payday lending a threat to military readiness and stepped in try to stop it. Payday lenders fought back, exploiting loopholes until the Defense Department said ‘enough was enough’ and rewrote the rules to make them tougher.”

The memo went on to highlight a study which found that as many as 10 percent of veterans leave the service with more than $40,000 in consumer debt.

Unfortunately, when it comes to policies that would attack such problems, conservative ideology and corporate lobbyists have a tendency to get in the way. Take, for instance, the case of North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry.

McHenry rarely misses an opportunity to issue press releases and Facebook posts touting his own supposed commitment to serving veterans or celebrating the military. Just yesterday, he issued a statement celebrating the 240th anniversary of the Marine Corps that even featured the Twitter hashtag “#SemperFi.

But when it comes to protecting ex-Marines and other vets them from predatory lenders, McHenry goes silent.

The reasons for this seem pretty clear. McHenry has been one of the payday lending industry’s biggest defenders for many years – even stretching back to his days in the General Assembly. Last month, in fact, a Washington, DC nonprofit watchdog, filed a formal request with the Office of Congressional Ethics calling for an investigation of 11 members of Congress of both parties, including McHenry, because of their ties to the predatory payday lending industry.

According to the report that helped spur the complaint (“Cheaper by the Dozen: How Twelve members of Congress Were Showered with Campaign Cash Just by Payday Lenders Just Before and Soon After Taking Official Actions to Benefit the Industry”), McHenry received $94,199 in campaign contributions from payday lenders from 2011-15 and took thousands in the weeks before signing an August 2013 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder questioning a Department of Justice initiative designed to crack down on unscrupulous lenders.

What a shock it is that McHenry has fought virtually every attempt to strengthen anti-payday lending laws that has come along in recent years.

The bottom line

American servicemen and women, both past and present, deserve more than parades, pats on the back and sappy videos on Veteran’s Day. They deserve full access, each and every day, to the American dream that they sacrificed so much to preserve. What’s more, they deserve public policies that guarantee that access. Let’s hope that, at some point soon, our leaders overcome their devotion to conservative, anti-government ideology and corporate special interests and work seriously to make such a policies a reality.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.