Few problems facing this country speak about our priorities so clearly as the way we grate our veterans. First, we have asked them to complete more combat tours than should ever be imagined in war with questionable goals and foggy outcomes. We leave them in those places for years and then fail to provide adequate physical and mental health services upon their return to civilian life. Finally, our congress fails to pass legislation to address the challenges faced by so many upon their separation from service-- from a lack of jobs to a VA that is obviously not doing the job it should be.
The time has come for an "Honorable Deal.". This comprehensive approach to veterans services would address these issues and more through a common sense approach-- leveraging the best solutions from our past to meet the needs of the modern veteran and his/her family.
Part One: Solve the Housing and Community Problem
Many of our military bases across the United States have vast tracts of underutilized land and space. In one or two bases per state, utilize these spaces to construct 1,000 pre-fab homes for veterans. Using modern pre-fab construction, these 400 square foot homes should cost no more than $10,000 to $15,000 per unit. For families, a larger model, approximately 1,000 square feet would be constructed. Each of the "transitional housing bases" would be able to support approximately 2,500 people. In these areas, access would be permitted to outside community directly-- in other words, no gate between the community and the outside, however security would be maintained by base personnel.
These new communities would be constructed using traditional urban design, meaning a "walk-able" community-- with a few stores at the center, open spaces, and playgrounds. In addition, a medical center offering veteran's and family services would be constructed in the center of the community. This facility would also offer mental health services and community meeting space as well as training and educational space for local community colleges, high-schools, tech-schools, and other entities to use. This design would be standardized across the country, allowing even this facility, which could also be a re-use of existing/abandoned space, to be constructed inexpensively and efficiently.
Of special consideration would be vacant "big-box" retail outlets in close proximity to the military bases where the housing would be located. These types of buildings could easily hold all of the services to be offered and would remove a potential blight.
Part Two: Solve the Jobs Problem
For those veterans moving onto the transitional housing locations, jobs could initially be provided on the base or in the local community government helping address critical infrastructure needs and general community maintenance. In this case, approximately 50,000 jobs would be needed. In cases where local governments do not have vacancies or the local military base can not support the work-- five year tax subsidies would be provided to local governments or private employers to hire veterans. This would be on a temporary basis until the veteran has obtained necessary skills to find full employment (five years or less). In each of the areas where one of these facilities would be located, a local jobs survey would identify key unfilled or undefiled classes of jobs. Vocational and Technical Training would be provided to meet the needs of that local community. This training would be supported by a public/private partnership and be open to all local residents-- not just those who are veterans, however veterans would receive an allotment of available jobs and, where feasible, preferential hiring- especially where their skills sets meet the needs of local employers.
Part Three: Solve the Education and Training Problem
At the local community centers would be the opportunity to take classes and training leading to employment. However, for those not living within the centers, there must be improved access to training for all veterans. A National roll-out of a veterans and low-income training and hiring program would benefit both veterans and those with little access to essential skills training. As mentioned above, local employers would be surveyed to determine their needs for new employees. This is a golden opportunity to fill the jobs American employers can't because of a lack of trained and qualified workers.
Part Four: Make any Success Sustainable
Many would be concerned about creating a new government welfare program-- no matter how noble the cause or idea. For this reason, the communities would have a graded tax structure to fund both the communities themselves and the services they provide. The start-up costs and expenses for the first three years would be funded by the federal government. However, beginning with year three, residents of the communities would pay a 3% flat tax on income earned as a type of "local government residency fee"-- This would increase to 4% in year four and 5% in year five. If anyone wishes to stay in the community beyond the five year period, they would have to pay into an additional Community Development Fund to help pay for community expansion infrastructure needs, etc. A critical component of this effort would be keeping costs low-- reducing the need for car travel and including gardens and other sustainable elements to any community design. The goal will be for families to be able to support themselves on one-income or with one partner working part-time instead of two full-time workers. This will decrease costs for the family and improve family cohesiveness.
This is my idea but it is not my problem. It is OUR problem. If you have suggestions for how we could improve it, please feel free to comment or to share. If you are a politician and want to do something with it-- that's even better. But if you think its stupid or unworkable- fine-- what's your idea? Whatever we do, t has to be sustainable and take into account the big picture. Too often today, we can't even get little solutions for big problems-- who knows, maybe we an get a big solution for a big problem?
And Now a Word From The Sponsor
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