Let's Give Our Veterans the Only Thing They Want: A MissionS

We know what's wrong with Veteran's Day. We know this country is crawling with jobless, homeless veterans of America's constant occupations and invasions. We know there aren't enough jobs for these people already burdened with so much, and no labor market demand for the "skill set" of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and existential dread. And yet they went out there and committed whatever insanity they were commanded to commit, in the name of America, even if it never mattered to 99% of Americans one way or the other. Instead of the usual Veteran's Day garbage of saying "uhh ... sorry" to those who suffered for empire, how about giving the veterans the only thing that can hold them together: a mission.

All anybody wants is a mission. Most of us fall into our fate one way or the other, and it's hardly the role we would've consciously chosen. Not the warrior. The warrior executed a decision: I am going to be a warrior and they are going to pay me for it.

But America was built on bureaucratic backstabbing, the first nation on Earth to sneak its way into existence with a lot of blatantly dishonest paperwork. And so the warrior is used up for a few years and then spit out, dead or alive or maimed or crazy. The military only keeps the cream, and rare is the hillbilly or suburban waste case or ghetto refugee who leaps the chasm from enlisted to officer.

For young veterans, the unemployment rate is triple what it is for civilians 18 to 24. And these veterans are mostly returning home to the thousand-mile-wide swaths of this country long abandoned by industry and the rich.

There are 22 million veterans alive today, half of them young enough to work and hungry for marching orders. And we just happen to have a complete global apocalypse bearing down upon us, right now. Coasts need to be strengthened and restored, solar panels need to go on every rooftop, schools need rebuilding and replanting, high-speed railways must be constructed alongside the interstates, walking trails need to be mapped and marked nationwide, and strip malls need rehabilitation as libraries and community centers. It's time for the National Crisis Defense Corps, a public-private U.S. Corps of Conservation that will guarantee jobs to all veterans of America's military services.

The U.S. NCDC/CoC—military people love this kind of alphabet-soup—will be organized as expeditionary forces based in the most economically depressed city of over 100,000 in each of America's eco-regions. Base towns will thrive from the permanent employment and population growth, while NCDC units will deploy for months-long missions, bivouacking in abandoned tract homes and railside warehouses and best yet out on the land, on beaches where they restore wetlands and forests where they battle poachers and foreign marijuana gangs. Every Saturday morning, Corpsmen and Corpswomen will be bussed to the nearest town and encouraged to go nuts for 24 hours. Bars and jails bondsmen will cash in, karaoke will be sung, babies will be made, blood and beer will spill. Sunday is recovery and laundry day, good food in the mess hall and early to bed.

Other than the $200 handed out for Saturday, pay is deposited directly to the warrior's U.S. NCDC/CoC Credit Union account, because payday lenders and the banks that own them won't be skimming this particular labor pool, and the 10 percent retirement contribution is mandatory and matched by the Corps. All day-to-day expenses and housing are covered, including the handsome uniforms for work and dress, and no-one retires without adequate finances and proof of owning a home or condominium, loans for which will be guaranteed to all veterans by the credit union and backed by the U.S. government. Quality day care will be available on base, by trained Corps providers in licensed centers. Local schools will be fortified and improved to NCDC standards, and all the sudden at least one part of America's desperate working class has a future that's something other than bleak.

Because the corrupt and crippled American government has been sabotaged into a state of instability and weakness, it will be left to the do-gooder billionaires and environmental non-profits to fund the operation of such a massive nationwide corps. It will be the salvation of the big green groups, too, because they've done such an abysmal job of engaging anyone beyond well-off liberal retirees who like to tour the national parks or go bird watching.

More money can be found in public grant funds and the philanthropy and research arms of the biggest companies. These companies don't need to be evil, that's just the default path to profit. They will learn to make good returns while helping mitigate whatever hell awaits us in the next few years and decades.

The American government no longer leads or inspires, but it can be taught to at least follow a moral path because what the American government cares about above all else is survival. Environmental catastrophe is a reliable cause of civic unrest and political instability, which is why the CIA found it necessary to open the Center on Climate Change and National Security, which Republicans in Congress quickly shut down lest they be accused of having a single brain cell between them all. Preparing for ecological disaster while building a green economy is the best insurance against desperate Americans finally using all those hundreds of millions of guns against whatever representatives of the U.S. bureaucracy are within range.

Full employment for veterans means employing all veterans of working age. Those missing limbs or their marbles will be gainfully employed according to their abilities and talents. Almost any military skill can be adapted to this mission, while those with ambition will find specialty training for renewable energy engineering, biology, restoration of habitat and architecture, high-level research and innovation, and the usual computer careers. Camp cooks, trail guides, clergy, health care workers and underemployed associate professors will all be welcomed and given full-time commissions to do meaningful and important work.

If this seems too ambitious and too weird to ever happen, just keep it in the back of your mind on this Veteran's Day, keep it someplace safe so that in a few weeks or months when the next never-before environmental disaster hits and causes some real hurt and disruption, you'll have an answer ready when people mutter hopelessly, "Well what're we gonna do about it?"

Ken Layne marks the nation's festivals and holidays in his American Almanac.