I recently attended a Veteran Town hall meeting hosted by state lawmakers in the beautiful, but isolated, Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The intent of the meeting was to get the word out about new policies in the Commonwealth and listen to concerns of rural area veterans. There was also an opportunity to visit with service providers in the area that assist veterans in various ways. I must admit it is remarkable to see grassroots organizations attempt to fill in the gaps where the federal government has fallen short. It is important to note that the federal government does provide many valuable programs and services, but much work still needs to be done.
In a recently growing trend across our country there seems to be a response by state governments to fill in some of the gaps left by the federal government. I would suggest that states are starting to realize that veterans who are unable to access federal benefits for a myriad of reasons are beginning to drain on state and locally funded programs. This has led states to develop some creative ways to raise money on veterans’ behalf, but at what cost?
Many may ask whose responsibility is it to care for our nation’s veterans in the first place? We could argue that many different institutions are responsible and I will leave that debate for another discussion. However, I would like to address one particular way in which states are considering raising money for veteran programs.
Due to a sluggish economy and tight budgets, states such as New York,and Pennsylvania, have proposed to create lottery games in an attempt to raise funds and distribute proceeds to veterans in need throughout their states. At face value this sounds like a great idea, why not solve a social problem, that speaks to the very essence of social injustice, by feeding another such as gambling addiction. Creative solutions are needed to raise funds, but when was the last time any of us have played a scratch off lottery game to fund the war in Afghanistan. I certainly do not remember scratching off lottery tickets to fund the invasion of Iraq, back in 2003. So, why is it now that a derelict federal government is causing states to resort to lottery games to fund programs to help our nation’s veterans? Does that mean when we borrowed trillions of dollars to pay for the two massive wars we fought since 9/11, the after care of our veterans was not taken into account? So, now we resort to lottery games to clean up the mess. Where is the social justice in that?
Also, much consideration must be taken by the potential advocates of this legislation as to where these lottery tickets are going to be sold, at corner convenience stores in low income neighborhoods right alongside unhealthy foods and cigarettes. What a great solution for the elite, why not just have the vulnerable and oppressed raise money for the vulnerable and oppressed?
We cannot allow society to solve social problems by creating different social problems. We must hold the federal government accountable for taking care of the combat veterans they created. States should not be in the position of considering lottery games to fill in the gaps for the federal government.
I want to close by challenging all of us to take notice the next time we stop for gas or coffee at our local convenience stores. Take a good look at your local lottery patrons and we will begin to see the same faces in a trance like state, usually around pay day, feeding money into machines or into the hands of store clerks. I strongly propose that a lottery game is not the answer to funding programs for our veterans. Relentless advocacy at the federal level to adequately fund programs that meet the needs of our veterans, and holding elected representatives accountable for failing to do so, is best practice in achieving social justice for this demographic. A Vietnam Veteran at the town hall meeting in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania said it best, “We answered the call of the federal government when we were drafted. Now it is us that call on that same federal government to help us!”
By: Michael Devilliers
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