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Published: Monday, 2/4/2008

A better way to help vets

OHIO'S brave men and women serving in the nation's military and the National Guard deserve our gratitude for the sacrifices they make in defense of freedom. That should go without saying.

Even so, a state bonus that would put a few dollars in the pockets of war veterans or their families is not the best way to honor them, especially at a time when the country is teetering on the edge of recession and the state is facing a budget deficit.

The Ohio Senate has decided to ask voters in November to revive a century-old practice of giving cash bonuses to military veterans during time of war. Predictably, the vote was unanimous. Who, after all, would want to risk being seen as unappreciative of those who fight and die defending our liberty?

But the plan, which would pay Ohio veterans of the Persian Gulf War and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan up to $1,000 if they were deployed and up to $500 if they served elsewhere, has a potential price tag of as much as $200 million. The money would have to be borrowed through a bond issue, which the state can ill afford given its perilous fiscal outlook.

Nearly a year ago, Moody's Investors Service lowered Ohio's long-term economic outlook from "stable" to "negative" and the Office of Management and Budget warned that the state could reach its constitutional debt-service limit of 5 percent of general revenue funds plus net state lottery proceeds in just four or five years.

At the time, Ohio's outstanding debt was about $9 billion and debt service stood at about 4.5 percent. State budget chief J. Pari Sabety warned at the time that "we've got to start flattening debt" and Gov. Ted Strickland voiced concern over the rate at which the state was accumulating debt.

Since then, the debt has topped $9.2 billion, debt service has risen to more than 4.6 percent, and, in terms of Ohio's economic prospects, the only light at the end of the tunnel is the one on the engine of the oncoming train.

There is, however, a better way to honor those who fight our battles overseas: fund services to help them recover from physical and psychological wounds and ease the transition to civilian life, provide training and job services that will allow them to embark on productive careers, and invest in job creation so that they have something to come home to.

A recent military.com survey found that 76 percent of veterans felt unable to translate their military skills into civilian terms, despite the fact that the military is supposed to help prepare them for civilian employment.

As we noted in November, 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night in America. That's one in four of all homeless Americans, and while the number from the country's most recent conflicts is small, they are turning up on the streets earlier than their brothers-in-arms from other wars, leading experts to predict a "tsunami" of homeless vets in the future. And the brutal truth is that putting $500 or $1,000 in the pocket of a vet who is homeless, can't find a job, or is having trouble coping isn't going to solve those problems.

If lawmakers just want to say thank you to Ohio's valiant warriors, hold a parade. If they actually want to do something, invest the state's dwindling resources in giving veterans a hand, not a handout.



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