EDITORIAL: The VA’s Patton party

Veterans Affairs doing more for hospitality industry than soldiers

Are you a veteran with a job? Then thank Michelle Obama, because she is taking credit for it.

In a speech Wednesday at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Mrs. Obama touted the Joining Forces campaign, which seeks to assist veterans and their spouses in finding employment. The program claims to have helped 125,000 find jobs in the past year, and it is securing commitments for future veteran hires. “These companies are not making these decisions just because it’s the right thing to do — which it is,” said Mrs. Obama. “They’re doing it because it’s the smart thing to do for their bottom lines.”

Some current and former members of the armed forces take umbrage at the idea that they need special help finding employment. America’s troops are well trained, disciplined and accustomed to effective teamwork. They generally don’t have problems getting jobs — in President Obama’s economy their challenge is finding them.

The administration has undertaken a number of similar initiatives before. Last fall, the White House and Congress got together on a plan to give tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. The program was made “revenue neutral” by delaying a planned reduction in fees on home loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. So while it may have helped some former troops find jobs, it definitely hurt those who had to pay more in fees than they would have otherwise. Call it “spreading the money around.”

The administration points to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the unemployment rate for veterans fell from 8.6 percent to 6.9 percent between July 2011 and July 2012. However this figure is deceptive because over that same period the number of veterans in the labor force fell by 462,000, and the actual number of employed vets dropped 239,000. In the general population, the participation rate — that is, the number of people of working age actually in the workforce — was close to 64 percent. Among veterans it was 51.6 percent and falling.

While veterans are having a tough time, the public servants who are supposed to be helping them are living large. On Aug. 13, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki seeking information on conferences held last summer that may make the infamous 2010 General Services Administration (GSA) party in Las Vegas that featured mind-readers and clowns appear low key by comparison.

In July and August 2011, the VA’s human resources department held a pair of week-long gatherings at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Fla. Mr. Issa noted these conferences bear “eerie similarities” to the GSA’s wasteful 2010 meeting. The cost to taxpayers was over $5 million, which is around six times what the GSA blew in Vegas. Making the rounds online is a video produced at a cost to taxpayers of $52,200 that spoofs the opening speech in the movie “Patton.” Whether the elderly actor portraying Gen. Patton was a veteran is unclear, but at $2.5 million per conference, the VA is hopefully creating jobs for somebody.

The Washington Times

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