Back in January, the Carter administration got a lot of big headlines for proclaiming new job programs for unemployed Vietnam veterans, but those only promise have already soured for many veterans' organizations.
Meanwhile, unemployment among Vietnam veterans is rising.
"They've been dragging their feet for three months," said Austin E. Kerby of the American Legion, complaining that the Labor Department has not yet even filled the new position created for the program, deputy assistant secretary for veterans employment.
"Our high hopes," said Lawrence W. Roffee Jr. of Paralyzed Veterans of America "have now turned to frustration and cynicism. In our opinion, the way the programs have been developed there is little chance of making any significant reduction in the unemployment rate."
"We are now into the fourth month of the new administration," said Ronald W. Drach of the Disabled American Veterans, "and we have seen the immediate implementation of several programs to assist those who evaded the draft and those who failed to serve honorably during the Vietnam era. However, we fail to see any concerted effort to assist all disabled veterans who served their country honorably . . ."
"What I hear," said Thomas J. Wincek, veterans coordinator at the University of Minnesota, "is that the veteran is No. 1. But what I see is that veterans really aren't that important and programs to help them can be dropped or neglected."
At the same time, unemployment among Vietnam veterans jumped a point in March to 17.1 per cent - nearly 7 percentage points higher than non-veterans of the same age.
The growing frustration of veterans with the Carter administration - in particular with the Labor Department's job agencies - has been gathering momentum for weeks and was expressed yesterday by seven widely varying veterans organizations at a hearing of the House Veterans Committee.
On the whole, they see the Carter administration, promises notwithstanding, repeating the bureaucratic stall and dribble which frustrated them under Republican Presidents - and left veterans with a disappointing share of the federal job-and-training benefits handed out under Labor Department programs.
Labor Secretary Ray Marshall on the day he was sworn in announced three new programs, totaling $1.3 billion. Labor is still waiting for Congress to appropriate most of the money under the $4 billion economic stimulus legislation, but the veterans groups are already deeply skeptical about how much actually get to veterans.
The Carter administration promised 145,000 slots for veterans under Labor's public-service jobs program and a veterans preference up to 35 per cent on all new job slots for young Vietnam veterans.
After the guidelines were published, the Veterans of Foreign Wars fired off a telegram to the White House, complaining that these goals were evaporating into vague instructions which merely encouraged local city halls and other program sponsors to sign up vets. In the past, Vietnam veterans have fared poorly when these jobs were handed out and their organizations want strong guarantees of veteran priority.
"Could it be possible," the VFW asked, "that an underling in the Labor Department solicitor's office can change the President's announced program or did Secretary Marshall mislead the American public and those who served honorably?"
Labor's proposed legislation - which the veterans complain was poorly drawn and offered to Congress without much push - was rejected by the House when it renewed the jobs program. The House would prefer to keep the jobs money free of categorical guarantees for any specitic groups.
Another component called HIRE, a $100 million subsidy program for private businesses that hire veterans, is also awaiting funds though Marshall's remarks in January left veterans groups, as well as some senators, with the impression that HIRE would proceed immediately. At the moment, Labor is planning a publicity ceremony at the White House sometime soon when the President appoints a HIRE advisory committee of business leaders.
That third program called Outreach envisions $20 million for hiring 2,000 disabled veterans to help other disabled vets in the job market. As of esterday, according to a department spokesman, about 500 of these have been recruited.
A major thrust of the veterans complaints is aimed at the U.S. Employment Service and other Labor bureaucrats who are accused of slighting veterans in the past. The same people, according to the veterans, are running the programs under the Carter administration. A Veterans Employment Service created to eliminate these problems have been ineffective because it reports to the same people, the vets complain.
"An anti-veteran attitude," Kerby of the American Legion charged.