President Carter yesterday recommended a $250 million package of improved benefits for Vietnam-era veterans, but the Council of Vietnam Veterans immediately denounced it as "too little and too late."
The lengthy administration review produced a series of recommendations for improved job programs and education benefits, but the review found that on the whole Vietnam-era veterans "as a group are doing quite well."
"Despite the shattering nature of that war, the great majority of [Vietnam] veterans have in fact made a successful transition to civilian life." Vice President Mondale said at a White House briefing with VA Administrator Max Cleland.
The study found that 65 percent of the 9 million Vietnam-era veterans (1965-75) had taken advantage of educational benefits under the GI Bill. A far higher percentage than among World War II or Korean war veterans. The study also found that Vietnam-era veterans aged 20 to 39 had a median income of $12.680 in 1977, "significantly higher" than the $9.820 median for non-veterans in the same age bracket.
The unemployment rate for veterans 20 to 34 was only 4.7 percent in the third quarter of 1978, compared with 6.7 percent a year ago. However, unemployment among black veterans was 11.2 percent in the third quarter of 1978, and among disable veterans, 30 to 35 percent or more. Above 512,000 Vietnam-era veterans receive disability compensation.
In addition to unemployment among blacks and disable, the report highlighted other special problems: at least 20 percent of Vietnam-era veterans continue to face readjustment problems: the Vietnam-era group under 34 has a 23 percent higher suicide rate than non-veterans the same age: alcoholics and problem drinkers went from 13 percent in 1970 to 31 percent in 1977; 29,000 Vietnam-era veterans are in jail.
Among key Carter recommendations:
Allowing educationally disadvantaged veterans to start the GI Bill education program up to 12 years after discharge, instead of 10. (This will need legislation.)
$130 million (some reprogrammed) for special on-the-job Labor Department training programs.
A pledge to boost the existing 98,000 figure for Vietnam-era veterans in public-service-employment (CETA) substantially (the earlier goal of 35 percent of all such jobs for Vietnam veterans hasn't been met).
New halfway-house and other inpatient and outpatient medical programs for drug abuse, alcoholism, psychiatric problems and other medical difficulties.
Efforts to improve review of "bad" discharges including legislation to "alleviate" a law barring Veterans Administration benefits of being AWOL more than 180 days.
A program to reach imprisoned vetterans to tell them of their rights and of benefits for which they may be eligible.
Creation of a Veterans Federal Coordinating Committee and authority for the VA administrator to attend Cabinet meetings.
Robert O. Muller, a former Marine who heads the Council of Vietnam Veterans, said the Carter recommendations are "not new, not innovative, not bold." His group favors a five-year, across-the-board extension of the GI Bill, a tax-credit and voucher program to spur employment, tuition aid where college costs are high and private non-VA counseling and treatment for psychiatric and other problems. The programs would cost an estimated $1 billion.
David F. Addlestone, director of a military discharge project of the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the Carter program for failing to offer much hope of clearing away a 25,000 person backlog of applications of upgraded discharges.