Mario Burgos

Clear thinking and straight talk from the top of a mountain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day Thoughts

There is an interesting interview with Veterans Service Secretary John Garcia over at nmpolitics.net. Secretary Garcia expresses grave concern about the budget cuts that are being incurred by his office and the impact those cuts will have on veterans. A very appropriately timed message for Veterans Day. But, this is what got me thinking:

Garcia said when he took over the department, which was elevated to a cabinet level post in 2004 and has 17 field offices, its budget was less than $2 million. After administrative expenses, including salaries for 20 accredited and certified veteran service officers, there was$200,000 left for veterans, or $1 per vet. That budget has since quadrupled, but he said it still only provides $4 per veteran.

Think about that for a minute. A state agency budget that went from $1.6 million to $6.4 million in five years. Based on what is noted above, administrative expenses and salaries accounted for approximately $1.4 million five years ago. Now, administrative expenses and salaries account for $5.6 million; whereas the direct benefit to veterans has only gone from $200,000 t0 $800,000.

That's what the numbers tell us. That's not the story Secretary Garcia is focusing on. No, he is appealing to our sense of patriotism and playing on our emotions to help protect the administrative expenses and salaries of his department. Now, mind you, I think he believes in what he is preaching. The problem is from the belly of the tax-spending beast his perception of reality is distorted.

Secretary Garcia talks about the challenges of reaching a new generation of veterans:

“With the recent war in Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve got an influx of new veterans — a new generation of veterans — and it’s tough to find them,” Garcia said. “Veterans just don’t walk into our office and say, ‘I want my benefits.’ We’ve got to find them. I don’t want them to wait 30 years, like I did and many Vietnam vets did. We have to be very proactive and do our outreach of services.”

Okay, so if the new generation of veterans don't just walk into their offices, why are they paying expenses for 17 field offices? Does anyone really think that conferences and seminars are the best and most economical means of getting information to a new generation of veterans? If you want to find someone, doesn't it make sense to go where they are to look for them?

But a recent survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network shows that only 22 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use Twitter, while 99 percent have profiles on social networks.

We know where 99 percent of a new generation is located, and guess what, it won't cost millions of dollars in administrative expenses to reach them. Heck, it won't even cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, give me full control of 25% of the current budget (in other words a 75% budget reduction), and I will guarantee that I can document a doubling of the number of veterans receiving information in less than 12 months time.

Today it is important to recognize and thank all of those who serve and have served our country to fight for our freedom. Spending money on inefficient and bloated bureaucracies in their name is not the way to do it.

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