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An ugly Veterans Day

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Veterans Day: The solemn parades, dutiful salutes and moments of silence are packed away for another year. But the rhetoric marches on.

While President Bush memorialized past and present troops last Monday—"Their determination, courage and sacrifice are laying the foundation for a more secure and peaceful world"—he threatened to veto a bill laden with millions of dollars for veterans job and rehabilitation programs.

Yet, the hypocrisy isn't limited to Bush. Both the left and the right use current soldiers and veterans as convenient poster children for their respective causes. Bring the troops home, declare congressional Democrats, while thousands of soldiers are on their third, even fourth tours. Support the troops, proclaim their conservative counterparts, while backing the president and his fellow hawks, who feign interest in the soldiers' well-being.

Even veterans don't always support their fellow veterans. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars have failed to openly criticize the president. Instead, they warmly welcome him to their annual conventions for another helping of platitudes. (However, the American Legion did demand that President Bill Clinton withdraw troops from Yugoslavia in 1999.)

And at Veterans Day parades in Boston, Mass., Long Beach, Calif., and Denver, Colo., organizers—often veterans themselves—banned antiwar veterans from the ceremonies or allowed them to march (in one instance, at the end of the line) only at the last minute.

In the midst of all this squabbling, we should remember that a quarter of the nation's homeless are veterans. Hundreds of thousands of veterans suffer from mental and physical illnesses and disabilities caused by their service, only to be denied benefits by the Veterans Administration.

And although veterans are legally entitled to return to their civilian jobs after they've finished their tours of duty, a Nov. 8 report—which included previously withheld data—showed that 11,000 Iraq war veterans couldn't immediately return to their jobs. More than 20,000 lost seniority, pensions and other benefits. Who is responsible for ensuring veterans are treated fairly in the workplace? The Bush administration: the Departments of Labor, Defense and Justice and the Office of Special Counsel.

While Congress must show genuine gratitude for veterans' service by funding their health care, we as Americans have a duty to current and past troops as well. In lieu of buying another yellow ribbon, pressure errant employers to obey federal law—and abide by the tenets of human decency—in rehiring veterans. Skip the eagle-emblazoned, red, white and blue T-shirt and instead donate to groups that help homeless vets get off the streets. Forgo the bumper sticker and vote for candidates who will not only bring soldiers home, but also care for them when they return.

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