Financial Review

Veterans Day 2014

Financial Review
DOW + 1 = 17,614
SPX + 1 = 2039
NAS + 8 = 4660
10 YR YLD = 2.36%
OIL + .12 = 77.52
GOLD + 12.60 = 1165.20
SILV + .14 = 15.85

The Dow and the S&P 500 hit intraday records today, then dipped into negative territory for most of the session, and then in the final minutes managed to eke out gains, good enough for another record high close.

The bond market was sort of closed in observation of Veterans’ Day. The US Treasury observes the holiday, and since much of the bond market deals with Treasuries, most bond traders take the day off. Stock traders just keep trading. The stock market used to take a 2-minute pause to recognize veterans, but that ended a few years ago. Wall Street just doesn’t seem to have much respect.

Back in the early 70’s, the politicians tried to change Veterans’ Day to October so it could be a Monday holiday, but that didn’t last long. Veterans’ Day of course sprang from Armistice Day, and the end of World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th month, the great guns went silent, and the war to end all wars was ended.

A bunch of companies are offering deals for veterans. There are a bunch of restaurants offering a free meal or lunch or appetizers. Here’s a partial list: Applebee’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Chili’s, Claim Jumper, Golden Corral, Denny’s, Hooters, MOD Pizza, Olive Garden, Sizzler, Texas Roadhouse, Outback, Longhorn, Carraba’s, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Red Lobster, IHOP, Chuck E. Cheese, and others.

You might want to call ahead and ask what restaurant is offering what deal. There are also a whole bunch of local restaurants offering deals. The point is, if you are a veteran, it is a good day to eat out. You will probably need something to show you are an actual veteran; most places will accept discharge papers, Uniform Services ID, and American Legion or VFW card, or wear your uniform, or a picture of you in uniform. Again, call to check.

Many stores are offering discounts to veterans today, including: Home Depot, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and many others. Great Clips is offering free haircuts for vets, or you can go in today and get a free haircut card for a veteran to use before the end of the year.

In the United States alone, there are 19.6 million veterans. According to the Independent Voter Network, approximately 3.6 million veterans have a service-related disability, 7 percent of veterans are unemployed, and veterans make up 13 percent of the adult homeless population. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans finds that 1.4 million more are at risk of homelessness due to poverty and lack of support. Additionally, up to 20 percent of Iraqi War veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans have suffered from PTSD at some point in their life.

And while a free lunch or a discount on something is nice, there are other ways to express your thanks to a veteran today or any other day. It’s a good idea to say thank you for your service. Beyond that, it makes sense to employ a veteran. One of the biggest hurdles service members face after leaving the military is finding a job. About 77% of veterans have struggled through unemployment and more than a quarter have searched for more than a year for a job. The unemployment rate for post 9/11 veterans peaked in January 2011 at 15.2%; in October 2013, there was 10% unemployment. Last month, the job picture for veterans improved as unemployment hovered around 7%, and that compares to 5.8% overall.

A new University of Phoenix national military survey suggests that while the veteran unemployment rate continues to decline, many veterans may actually be underemployed. A majority (61 percent) of past service members who have held civilian jobs say they have previously been or currently are in jobs beneath their skill sets, with nearly three-quarters (72 percent) saying they accepted a position because they were unemployed and needed a job. Forty-two percent of past service members who are currently employed say they are working in jobs today that are beneath their skill sets. The transition to civilian workforce can be difficult, but more and more businesses are recognizing the incredible skill sets that veterans bring to the market.

Many corporations have launched new hiring initiatives for veterans. In April 2013, Walmart pledged to give 100,000 veterans jobs within five years. In November 2013, Starbucks launched a nationwide initiative to hire 10,000 veterans and spouses by the end of 2018. Edward Jones has hired more than 1,250 veterans as financial advisers since 2012, and it is on track to hire 500 this year. Want to hire a veteran? The Returning Heroes Tax Credit should provide a financial incentive. For veterans who need jobs, the veterans’ job bank and resources on the VA website might help.

The VA should be doing much more to help, but as you probably know, the VA has made a mess off things lately. Many of the problems can be traced to inadequate staffing and training, along with chronic underinvestment in the system. Politicians seem quick to take military action and slow to pay the price. And as citizens, we let them get away with it.

The VA hospital scandal broke in May when it was revealed 1,700 veterans were put on secret waiting lists at the Phoenix VA hospital. The lists were made to hide the length of time it took for veterans to see a doctor.
Fourteen-hundred more veterans had to wait more than 90 days to see a primary care doctor at the Phoenix facility. VA hospitals in the Midwest were found to have similar problems. The scandal led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last May. Robert McDonald was named the new Veterans Affairs Secretary, and after about 3 months on the job he finally announced yesterday that he is trying to take some serious action.

The VA announced it is set to fire 35 VA employees in response to the discovery that some 100,000 veterans did not receive timely access to health care. Disciplinary action was taken against 5,600 VA employees this year, including some who are still with the federal agency; an additional 1,000 employees may also be punished.

Veterans Affairs is establishing a position called chief customer service office, who will report to McDonald. The department is also creating new “VA-wide customer service organization to ensure we provide top-level customer service to veterans. … The mission of the new office will be to drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our veteran customers.”

The agency also said it would improve coordination through a national network of community veterans advisory councils “to coordinate better service delivery with local, state and community partners.” It’s unclear how long it will take to roll out the reforms. The VA now has nine organizational maps and at least a dozen websites, many with their own user names and passwords. Eventually, McDonald would like all veterans to have one user name and password for all VA services.

But while the spotlight has been on firings, McDonald’s biggest and most important challenge appears to actually concern hiring. McDonald has said the agency needs 28,000 more doctors and nurses in order to keep up with the current requests for appointments by veterans. So, until he fixes one of the problems that led staff members to manipulate wait-time records in the first place — that demand for services far outstripped supply — all the terminations and online suggestion boxes in the world will do little to help. Whistle-blowing doctors have, after all, blamed clinical shortages for the mess at the Phoenix hospital, where the fiasco first surfaced.

McDonald has visited medical school campuses to recruit doctors and nurses. He’s given raises to doctors to bring their salaries more in line with private sector opportunities, but there is already a projected shortage of doctors in the general population. Maybe it is time to re-think our approach to educational funding opportunities for doctors and nurses. Hiring alone will hardly fix an organization in need of modernizing, restructuring and culture change, but it is a big part of the problem.

More important, we must dedicate ourselves to the sacred promise: leave no one behind. That applies on the battlefield as well as in civilian life. That means that if we have to pay more for doctors to treat our veterans, we do it. We don’t let politics get in the way, we don’t let anything get in the way. We do what must be done. Leave no one behind. It’s a mission that hasn’t ended, and as long as wars continue, it never will.

What truly makes a veteran has to do with the expression of qualities, such as self-sacrifice, courage, discipline, honor, integrity, thoughtfulness, brotherly love, and teamwork. This list could go on and on, but these qualities speak for themselves when it comes to why we respect those who have served, or are serving, in uniform. So many of us have a friend, relative, or acquaintance who fits this description. Taking a moment to pause and be grateful for those who have expressed these spiritual qualities says something important—not only about them, but about us, as well as about the culture that lifts up and values these qualities.

And to all veterans, thank you for your service.

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