Shannyn Moore: State GOP fails to serve Alaska vets

commentMarch 30, 2013 

I wonder at times how different my life would have been had Pop not served in the military. Because of his Army service, he was eligible for a college education. He and Mom got a Veterans Administration loan on the 40 acres and cabin I grew up in. Pop served during the Vietnam era, and because he was a "sole provider" for his widowed mother, his service was stateside.

He was just one of many veterans who made their way to Alaska.

Just this week, after much fanfare, the Alaska Legislature declared March 29 Vietnam Veterans Day. On the 40th anniversary of our withdrawal from Vietnam, Alaska said, "Welcome Home." At this rate, sometime late in 2051, future legislators will salute our Iraq veterans.

Now let's consider how much the people controlling the Legislature really care about veterans.

Fourteen percent of Alaskans over 18 years of age are veterans. That's the highest percentage per capita for any state. The Gulf War Era veterans are largely forgotten already, and the returning warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan continue to struggle on many levels.

No matter. Legislators in the Republican majority this week voted against education funding for Alaska National Guard members. How do they justify that? Thirty-seven percent of veterans who die by suicide have only completed high school. Among those with just one year of college, that number drops to 8 percent.

State funding to operate a new veterans cemetery in Fairbanks? Voted down by legislators who say they'll get to it later.

While Alaska lawmakers busied themselves passing bills to protect us from the NRA's paranoid fantasies, falling all over themselves to pander to the bunker dwellers, real veterans keep on hurting.

Where are the resolutions demanding that the White House and Department of Veterans Affairs work harder to make sure those who served get the services they need? Really, it's ridiculous. In 2009, 11,000 veterans waited for more than a year for benefits. As of last December, that number had grown 245,000. In some areas of the country, first-time filers are waiting an average of 612 days for the help we promised and they earned.

I know that's not a "state issue," but the Republican leadership in Juneau has tons of time for national issues. Heck, they generated at least eight pointless bills just about guns.

While "sequestration" stripped money from veterans, in education funding and housing, our legislators debated which was their favorite constitutional amendment.

No, really.

Sen. Fred Dyson was a leading time-waster. One of his achievements was a resolution declaring the Second Amendment "our most fundamental right." The House actually argued about this. Wait, maybe the right to practice your own religion is better. How about the elimination of human slavery? Nope, it's guns.

Then they all rallied around another Dyson resolution, this one commending state officials for fighting "federal overreach."

And while the silly waged war against jackbooted feds in a gun confiscation fantasy, many veterans, including some struggling to get help, are turning actual guns on themselves. According to a Centers for Disease Control study that included Alaska, guns were used in 69 percent of veteran suicides. For every soldier killed in battle, 25 vets kill themselves. Twenty-two a day.

Twenty-one percent of suicides in Alaska are veterans.

If you want to help veterans, here's a clue: Their biggest problem isn't the far-fetched prospect of the government taking away their guns. The Legislature should try treating their need for services as seriously as it took naming a day of the year for them.

Yes, Alaska Legislature, pat yourself on the back for giving Vietnam vets a 40-year-late tip of the hat. It can be another opportunity to wear camo scarves for a photo op.

But think about veterans in your budget priorities? Oh, right, you'll take care of that later.

This week, Sen. Pete Kelly penned an op-ed for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. He said under the oil tax regime called ACES lawmakers had "spent money like Paris Hilton on crack."

That seemed an odd statement from the co-chair of the Finance Committee, which wrote the state budget this year -- the largest budget in state history. Kelly had no problem dipping into the $16.5 billion in savings the "ACES lawmakers" had put away over the years.

A few days earlier he choked up while reading the names of fallen Alaska servicemen and women. Then on Thursday he voted to cut funding for them.

That's what we call lip service.

Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show airs at 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on ABC affiliate KYUR Channel 13.

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