To say that the jobs situation when I left the service was different from the employment scene facing veterans today is a gross understatement.
I well remember leaving Naval Air Station Albany on a Friday morning in early 1971, honorable discharge in tight grasp, and headed back to my native Mississippi with the full knowledge that I had a reporting job starting on Monday morning at a newspaper in Jackson, the capital city.
What a good feeling about my future I had as I traversed the entrance pathway from the Navy base to its junction with Cordele Road for the final time. Soon, I hit U.S. 82 West and was joyously on my way to continue a career in journalism and communications that has lasted more than four decades. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had gainful employment all these years.
I contrast that memory with what America's military veterans face as they arrive home today from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with dozens of them missing a limb or suffering from post traumatic stress disorder -- and no job prospects, a situation sure to worsen when President Obama brings home the remaining 40,000 Iraqi War veterans in a few months.
The U.S. Congress has a golden opportunity to help resolve this matter with passage of legislation that would provide tax credits to employers who hire veterans who have been out of work for at least six months, and which would enhance education and job training programs for veterans. It could lead to the immediate employment of thousands of jobless vets.
An amendment to the bill passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday with one dissenting vote by Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina (he later voted for a full bill with the amendment added in). You don't have to ask what he was thinking when he voted against the amendment: He said that such a plan would be "inherently unfair" to other job-seekers.
All Georgians should give a "thank you" shout out to this state's senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, for supporting the amendment and the full bill, which has moved to the U.S. House for consideration.
The veterans' employment bill is part of the larger effort by the Obama administration to create millions of new jobs for unemployed Americans. That is the legislation to rehabilitate the nation's infrastructure and allow states to hire more teachers (Georgia has laid off thousands of them) and emergency response personnel.
Passage of the complete bill depends on House passage and compromise in conference negotiations between the House and Senate before it goes to President Obama, if it gets that far, and it should.
The virtues of hiring returning veterans are well known. These are men and women who have commanded groups of 10 or more fellow soldiers operating under the most extreme pressure situation possible -- combat against the enemy. They have been put in charge of whole cities in Iraq.
The nation owes these returning veterans a huge debt. Thousands of them have found landing a job impossible and their personal financial obligations are piling up. It is past time to help them erase these debts.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.