MR. CARTER has now produced a Pentagon program to upgrade the less-than-honorable discharges of some 400,000 Vietnam-era servicemen, including 60,000 deserters. The announcement of it follows the President's offer of pardon to the 10,000 or so young Americans accused or convicted of draft offenses, and the Labor Department's announcement of a plan to create or find 200,000 jobs for about a half million unemployed Vietnam veterans. Added to the Veterans Administration's efforts to improve its services to its Vietnam-era clients, these elements constitute a major effort to make good on the President's campaign pledge to "get the Vietnamese war over with." It is an impressive performance.
Whether it is impressive enough is another question. As we stated three months ago, a great toll of human wreckage has been wrought upon the community of veterans not only the war but by their country's post-war neglect. For many, too much damage has been done and too much time has passed for any government program, no matter how compassionately conceived and effectively executed, to offer adequate relief. To understand why, we invite your attention to the article on the opposite page about precisely those Vietnam veterans theoretically within the reach of the newly announced Pentagon program. Their situations are various and tangled, indeed.
The new program provides for the upgrading of some "bad" discharges, but it offers no assurance that discharges will be upgraded to the only level (honorable) truly free of civil disability and moral stigma. For great majority of those eligible for the program, the upgradings are not automatic but can be gained only by application to a review board operated by the Pentagon, the institution that many veterans believe to be the very source of the problem. There seems to be no planning for the Pentagon to actively reach out to extend the program to its would-be beneficiaries, many of whom one unprepared or disinclined to apply for its benefits themselves. For the 10,000 "military resisters," who deserted in Vietnam out of repugnance for the war, no relief is offered at all.
In short, the program may be a substantial advance on the previous options open to Vietnam veterans, but it will not satisfy the legitimate claims of many of them for fuller access to the benefits and status of the nation they were called to serve. No doubt the approval of this program took some courage for a President who is a former professional military officer and who presumably retains the military's conception of the importance of discipline and duty. We hope, nonetheless, that Mr. Carter will keep a close eye on the administration of the program in order to learn whether it serves well even its own limited purposes, and whether wisdom and compassion may not require him to broaden it. Since those who did not serve, draft law evaders, received a blanket pardon, we would hope that those who did serve, and who received less-than-honorable discharges, would be treated in the same generosity of spirit. If his goal is indeed to "get the Vietnamese war over with," then Mr. Carter has, we believe, no other choice.