WE HAVE BEEN chronicling from time to time in this space the evidence, as we perceive it, of an administration record of lack of interest - or, at least, sharply limited interest - in the particular special problems of Vietnam veterans.The bill of particulars has ranged from the President's failure to battle Congress for a strong review program for upgrading bad discharges to his signing the GI Bill legislation and accepting the whole package as though it were adequate, which it isn't.
These were major issues in which the administration, in our view, both disappointed and further alienated large numbers of Vietnam veterans. In the administration's view, of course, it has done the best it could against difficult odds, and there is something to be said for that: The White House is dealing with a Congress not well disposed to face up to the special problems of the Vietnam-era veteran. But the administration's defense would be more persuasive if it could at least demonstrate, in little ways as well as on the big issues, that its concern is real and sustained, however imperfect the results.
To illustrate what we're talking about, we invite your attention to a relatively minor recent incident, involving the White House and an outfit called the National Association of Veterans Program Administrators. The membership of this group, which works with disadvantaged veterans in some 500 colleges, vocational schools and community programs in every state and nearly every large city in the country, was planning its annual convention in Dallas. It chose Mr. Carter for the "Outstanding Achievement Award" by which the President would become NAVPA's "Man of the Year." After sending a letter to the President, the veterans group waited for two weeks for an answer, only to be told by the White House director of scheduling that the President couldn't make it to Dallas, but if the group wanted to send the award to the White House "the President will be happy to have you do so."
Thomas Wincek, NAVPA's chairman, thought his group deserved something better than his routine brush-off. At the very least, he hoped a NAVPA delegation might be permitted to come to the White House and present the award in a ceremony that might have taken 10 minutes of the President's time. So he phoned a White House official who handles veterans issues. Mr. Wincek was told to write another letter, which he did. He never received a reply. he then came to Washington - for other matters as well - and saw another White House official, who reported that a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor would be at the group's convention in Dallas to speak, and would be pleased to accept the award on behalf of the Presdent. As it turned out, this official left before the award ceremony and detailed an assistant to accept the honor.
And so, after long silences and a brush-off or two, an assistant to a deputy assistant - a stand-in's stand-in, you might say - played the part of NAVPA's "Man fo the Year" for President Carter. The incident may not be a conclusive test of the administration's intentions with respect to what Mr. Carter has called this nation's "special debt of gratitude" to the Vietnam-era veterans. But surely it says something about White House attitudes and about the dept of the administration's commitment to discharge that debt.