Thursday, July 24, 2014
Westminster College history professor Mark Boulton teaches history so that — as the saying goes — the major downfalls won’t repeat themselves.
While working on his dissertation in the early 2000s, Boulton realized that politicians throughout America’s history have not taken that phrase close to heart.
For the research essay, Boulton interviewed Vietnam War veterans who didn’t share the positive perspectives about G.I. Bills like World War II veterans who were welcomed home with care and education.
Vietnam War veterans, Boulton said, were caught in the middle of the political aisle.
That idea prompted him to write his most recent book, “Failing Our Veterans: The G.I. Bill and the Vietnam Generation.” The book cites Boulton’s one-on-one interviews with veterans, anecdotes from more casual conversations and hundreds of letters from concerned veterans to politicians found in the presidential archives.
“In some ways World War II was an anomaly, and even though there are services for veterans, every step of the way is a fight to get veterans what they need…” Boulton said.
The first sign of decline, Boulton said, was in 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson, a liberal, passed on investing in veteran care due to his focus on building the “Great Society” and funding government programs.
“Because he wanted more universal programs like Medicare and Medicaid and universal funding for higher education, he argued that veterans should not get as much because a lot of them didn’t come out of the services with as many problems, necessarily, and so he questioned why there should be generous benefits for veterans alone,” Boulton said.
Six years later, Boulton said fiscally-conservative President Richard Nixon had no desire to be generous and kept veteran benefits down to save money.
Then, in 1974, President Gerald Ford vetoed a G.I. bill that included an education benefits package, Boulton said, because he believed it was inflationary.
“So essentially you have three versions of a G.I. bill — ‘66, ‘72, and ‘74 — and every step of the way the government, from the top down, is finding ways to make sure the vets didn’t get as much as they did in World War II,” Boulton said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs was the center of national controversy this spring and summer when news hit that veterans waited extended periods of time for health care — so much that some died waiting.
Boulton said recent federal legislation sponsored by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would have increased medical aid and care and education for veterans, but it was killed, adding a modern example on the list of failed attempts.
Boulton plans to mail a copy of his book to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The professor said he hopes it will promote understanding and prevent any further repetition of poor political decisions in order to “get away from political ramblings and focus on what veterans need.”
“Because we don’t have a draft anymore, it’s all volunteer force. We are — of course — sending people to go out and fight in our name, and I think there needs to be more of a dialogue about what we owe to veterans for that,” Boulton said.
Boulton is currently in Beallsville, Ohio — a town with the highest per-capita casualty rate in the Vietnam War — recording the stories of those who lost loved ones for another book.
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