SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

February 12, 2014

Our view: Getting serious about veterans’ benefits

There’s a reason why Massachusetts offers so many benefits to veterans.

Those who are willing to lay down their lives to protect the lives, properties and freedoms of their fellow citizens have earned our respect and our gratitude. They also deserve our assistance in returning to civilian life when their tours of duty are over. So, we provide tuition waivers at public universities, preference for public housing and Civil Service jobs, health care at VA hospitals and a myriad of other services.

That is not to say it’s enough.

We’ve all read about the scandal of substandard health care for wounded veterans and the difficulty many have found in accessing counseling and mental health care. These are real needs that need real dollars to resolve, and it is one of our greatest shames that we allowed these things to happen.

Given that context, we have a hard time viewing Peabody’s recent dalliance with free parking for veterans as anything more than an irrelevant distraction.

For sure, there has been no national outcry from veterans who feel disrespected, much less stressed, because they have to put a quarter in the parking meter like everyone else. Free parking is not one of the freedoms they fought for, and it bears no relationship to their service. It doesn’t ease the burden of returning to civilian life in any meaningful way, nor does it help to prepare them for new careers and new lives.

It doesn’t even save them very much money. It was put off last week when backers discovered that the veterans license plate that would be required — so police could verify someone was entitled to free parking — costs $50. (All of that money goes to the Soldiers Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke.) Since a veteran would have to do a whole lot of free parking to offset that cost, it was decided to brainstorm for some other way to identify veterans who would be entitled to this “honor.”

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