The current state of California’s veterans and the role of state programs in providing for their needs is an issue that particularly concerns me. I’m a veteran myself, having served as an officer in the United States Army following my graduation from college. As a young artillery officer, I was continually impressed by the skill, resourcefulness, reliability, and general competence of the young soldiers assigned to the units in which I served.
In fact, I often found myself reflecting on the differences between talented young men and women under my leadership compared to my classmates at Yale, and it seemed to me that the only real difference between the two groups—other than in a dangerous situation, I would surely trust my Army soldiers more—was simply opportunity, plain and simple.
We now live in a country where a very small segment of our population, less than 1%, now serves in our all-volunteer military, protecting the other 99% from an increasingly unstable and dangerous world. It should come as no surprise that California, as the nation’s largest state, sends more men and women into the United States armed forces than any other state.
It should also come as no surprise that upon completion of their military service, more veterans return to California (particularly Southern California) than any other part of the country. Our state is now home to more than 1.8 million veterans of all ages, and substantial levels of funding and other resources are allocated toward the support of veterans across a wide range of needs: employment, housing, behavioral health, rehabilitation, and many other areas.
And yet, on the basis of my own direct experience over the past four years as the founder of a non-profit dedicated toward assisting veterans upon their return home from service, I can tell you that, with very few exceptions, these programs are falling well short of achieving their stated goals on helping veterans in their respective spheres.
Having now had ample opportunity to interact directly with state departments and officials tasked with supporting California’s veterans, I’ve come to the conclusion that while many of these programs are well-intentioned and many of the public employees working on them are doing excellent individual work, the single factor limiting the impact and success of these programs are the quality and commitment of our elected officials.
Go to any public event honoring veterans and you’ll see exactly what I mean—after the Pledge of Allegiance, and the speeches, and the photo ops, the elected officials who say all the right things about how much they love and support our veterans are very soon long gone, back to the comfort of their offices, notwithstanding their assurances on how much they care.
When it comes to legislation that affects California’s veterans, the rule of thumb among elected politicians seems to be “the thinner the better.” For the average, ambitious California politician in term-limited world, why bother delving too deeply into legislative reform of large programs dealing with complex issues affecting veterans when something much lighter and easier will get you the same presumed political benefits back home in your district?
Consequently, the kind of veteran-related legislation that seems to get introduced is for things like discounts on fishing licenses for veterans, promoting the teaching of the history of the Gulf War in California’s schools, or commemorating the “Month of the Military Family”, while meaningful legislation that would address the real needs of California’s vets goes largely ignored.
This less-than-benign neglect is even more pronounced when it comes to oversight—despite the pressing need to review and reform so many of the existing state programs intended to serve veterans, precious little real effort gets made in Sacramento to do that in any rigorous, meaningful way. In the meantime, your tax dollars continue being spent while veterans’ needs often go unmet. This needs to change. As your representative to the California State Senate, in intend to do everything I can to see to it that it does.