Budgeting these days is a zero-sum game. Currently at play in this game in Salem is House Bill 2402. This bill appropriates $1,101, 335 to put a campus veterans service office on each of Oregon's 18 university and college campuses. The function of a CVSO is to assist GI Bill students realize their GI Bill education benefits. In my opinion this bill should never get out of the House. And if it does, the governor should veto it.
First, these CVSOs would duplicate a function already being performed. Each and every Oregon campus is staffed with professional academic and financial aid counselors to guide student veterans and their fellow non-veteran students. It is in the interest of these professional counselors and their employing college or university to ensure the GI Bill student receives all due under the GI Bill. There has not been one shred of credible evidence produced showing that these counselors over the years have not done an outstanding job, starting from the first GI Bill students following WW II through the Korean War, the Vietnam War and now the so-called Global War on Terrorism, and all the conflicts in between. (As a former GI Bill student, veteran of the Korean War, I can attest they did an outstanding job by my cohort.)
Second, deserving of a much higher priority than on-campus GI Bill students are severely disabled and disfigured veterans. There are veterans with traumatic brain injuries, veterans without limbs, some with faces and bodies horribly disfigured by bullets, explosions and burns. VA is struggling to care for these warriors within funding constraints, not only for the basics, but also for the research necessary to develop new and better prosthetic devices, to develop skills and knowledge to treat traumatic brain injuries, to deal with PTSD, to develop maxillofacial devices. The funds to pay for care and research comes from the same pockets that would pay for CVSOs. These pockets are not bottomless.
Third, within the Oregon state budget the zero-sum game is more apparent - spend a million dollars on CVSOs is to deny a million to K-12 education, for example. Children are our future. They are the children and grandchildren of veterans, too. In terms of education, Oregon children are already short-changed: physical ed, music and the arts discontinued, class sizes increased far beyond the optimum, good teachers laid off, you name it. Considering there are insufficient funds for K-12 education, in my opinion it is irresponsible to squander $1,101, 335 on the CVSO program.
Fourth, without counting CVSOs, there is an overabundance of veteran service officers of one type or another dispersed all over Oregon to assist veterans in realizing their benefits, education and non-education. Counting those in the counties, state claims offices, those provided by veterans organizations, plus the VA claims examiners themselves, there is a VSO within shouting distance of every campus in Oregon. Additionally, there are the volunteer service officers, one in each of the 100 VFW posts in Oregon.
Fifth, the problem is not assistance to the veteran to know and claim benefits due, education or otherwise. The problem is the VA simply does not have the resources to adequately review and act on submitted claims in a timely manner. VA Secretary Shinseki is under extreme pressure to reduce the backlog in claims. Among other things, he needs additional funds to hire additional claims examiners to reduce that backlog. Hiring a bunch of CVSOs will not alleviate the claims backlog.
Sixth, the GI Bill students who are supposedly to be serviced by the CVSOs have found their way around the military services and many around battlefields. I have no doubt whatsoever they can find their way around a campus without the services of a CVSO. They are home, relatively whole in comparison to their brothers and sisters at arms spoken about above. They have elected to pursue a post-secondary education. You may say they have it together. You don't hear them or any organization of veterans clamoring for CVSOs.
To put a stop to this profligacy in Salem, readers are encouraged to call or write their representative and senator making known they have had enough of wasteful legislation such as HB-2402.
(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Robert H. Thornhill is a life member of the VFW and a former GI Bill student from the Korean War. He lives in Beaverton.)