What are we to make of Michelle Obama’s satellite appearance at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, in which she announced the “Best Picture” Oscar while surrounded by a phalanx of uniformed military personnel?
Almost immediately, questions were raised as to the appropriateness of using service members as “props” in a commercial entertainment broadcast. I tend to agree it was inappropriate, especially since the first lady made no mention of the troops decorating her appearance. Even so, it was a relatively minor offense.
But perhaps we should be grateful to the White House for making it crystal clear otherwise that, when it comes to our military personnel and veterans, this administration’s priorities are definitely “just for show.” The fact is, the Obama administration’s support for post-9/11 veterans has been anything but awards-worthy.
Just look at the dismal situation at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where a persistent backlog of benefits claims has left hundreds of thousands of veterans in limbo.
According to a report published in the military newspapere Stars and Stripes just this week, the claims backlog has actually grown by 7 percent from a year ago, in spite of VA secretary Eric Shinseki’s promises of speedier service.
Today, more than 600,000 claims are more than 125 days old — and over 900,000 are stuck in the growing backlog. In some parts of the country, veterans wait even longer. The Center for Investigative Reporting has done good work in tracking the challenges that veterans face. In Boston, the average wait time for a VA claim to be processed is 333 days; in Chicago, it’s 431 days; in Los Angeles, it’s an appalling 506 days.
This is not just bureaucratic bean-counting; those numbers represent veterans who are waiting up to a year or longer for health benefits and other services that will help them to rebuild their lives after deployment.
Such post-service benefits are not “welfare” — they are part of a contract we make with those who serve and fight on our behalf, and which we must honor. The Obama administration promised that VA service would be improved and that substantial investment would be made in the department’s delivery mechanisms, but that hasn’t happened.
Veterans are also disproportionately affected by President Obama’s weak economic stewardship, which has left us with a sluggish, slow-growth “recovery” that’s now in its fourth year.
Consider the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans. As of January, 11.7 percent of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were unable to find work — almost four points higher than the overall unemployment rate. For the youngest veterans (ages 18–24), the situation is even more severe. Their unemployment rate is a jaw-dropping 31.3 percent.
The president’s flailing economic policies — which revolve around ever-higher taxes, endless government spending, and stifling regulation, working in some mystical combination to deliver growth that never seems to arrive — have neem no help. If President Obama and his team want to get serious about reducing unemployment for veterans and all Americans, they would focus on pro-growth policies that allow the private sector to thrive and start creating jobs again.
But instead, they nibble around the edges, focusing on targeted tax credits for hiring veterans that have achieved little in creating durable incentives for employers. The high numbers of jobless veterans are testament to the failure of those good intentions.
There’s been a fair amount of commentary this week about the “outrage” of the White House using the troops as “wallpaper” for an appearance at a Hollywood entertainment event. But the far greater outrage is what’s being perpetrated every day against our service members and veterans by an administration that is unserious about honoring their service and sacrifice.