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Unkept promises add to military's recruitment woes

In recent weeks there have been several articles in the press concerning the reluctance of today's youth to join the military. Most recently there was Military recruiters face a host of obstacles (Jan. 30). All of these reports and studies may be good as far as they go.

I have yet to read about the most important factor: broken promises. How can any potential enlistees have confidence that the things promised to encourage them to join will be available when they complete their period of service or retire?

The most glaring broken promise facing military retirees today concerns medical care after retirement. As recently as 1993, recruiting ads were stressing free health care for retirees and their dependents for life. Military dental care was also available. The government has reneged, claiming that no such promises were authorized and pushing Medicare-eligible retirees out of the military medical system and onto Medicare. Some of us can afford the supplementary insurance to cover the 20 percent of the medical bills that Medicare does not pay. But many retirees cannot afford that payment.

Efforts are now being made in the courts to require the government to honor its obligations. Several test projects are now under way to attempt to rectify the situation, but they are three-year test programs to be followed by analysis and study. There are now approximately 600,000 Medicare-eligible military retirees in the United States, and they are dying at a rapid rate. By the time the studies are completed, there won't be many left to take advantage of the results.

Other broken promises include frequent revisions in the payment of retired pay, representing a substantial erosion of a promised benefit. Now the commissaries are being threatened as the commissary system has incurred significant losses. When one adds the loss of these and other former attractions to military service, the reasons for the loss of enlistees and re-enlistees and failure to meet recruitment quotas are obvious. The obvious question is, "Will I receive what I was promised?"

Bernard L. Tauber, lieutenant colonel,

U.S. Army (retired), Tampa

Medication can be a barrier

Re: Military's recruiters face a host of obstacles.

This essay addressed many social and economic factors impacting recruiting but left out one factor that may ultimately have the greatest effect. The federal government estimates that more than 6-million children in the United States are being treated with psychotropic drugs.

As a counselor, I meet many parents who were not initially advised by other professionals that their child's drug regimen eliminates the option of a military career. Specifically, the Department of Defense will not accept young people who have been treated with certain psychotropic medications for behavior problems after age 12. This is prudent, given that there is considerable debate about the long-term effects of psychotropic drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin.

For example, the "Prozac defense" for violent behaviors has been part of the legal system for years now. As more boys than girls are diagnosed and treated for behavioral problems, this adds to the potential recruiting shortfall.

Lori Puterbaugh, Seminole

Clinton suggests much, does little

Re: Clinton suggests billions in tax cuts, Jan. 28.

This headline in your paper following the rambling State of the Union address really made me chuckle.

One thing this president has always hated is a real tax cut. However, as he has done in the past, he now wants to steal the term "tax cuts" from the Republican Party, which really wants to effectively cut taxes to all Americans.

This president's tax cuts (which were initiated by the Republican Party), with a few minor exceptions, are really increased "spending bills" designed primarily to garner votes for his party.

The key word in your headline is "suggests." Clinton suggests something every day to get a headline but accomplishes little. In addition, he continues to imply that he is responsible for our great economy. The real power behind this economy is the technology revolution and the Republican Congress, which has significantly reduced government spending.

Neither he nor your paper has ever given credit where it is due. Do this and be fair to your readers.

Patrick F. Burns, Clearwater

Clinton creates benefits for all

Every time I hear President Clinton speak, I am reminded how fortunate we, as a country, are to have such a great leader. I disagree with the pundits as to President Clinton's place in history. I believe that history will recognize the true greatness of our president.

It is just a shame that those who have benefitted the most from this great economic period, perhaps the greatest in history, are too blind or too ignorant to recognize it.

Ronald Reagan may have planted the seeds of prosperity, George Bush may have watered them enough to keep them alive, but surely history will recognize that Bill Clinton is responsible for growing our country into the economic garden that we all reap the benefits of.

Our great country will be very fortunate if the next president turns out to be half the president Bill Clinton is, regardless of which party he comes from.

Roger Smith, Clearwater

Boosting business makes sense

Re: The State of the Union address.

The president should be applauded for promising to deliver $22-billion dollars to help promote business investments domestically. Emerging markets in America's inner-city areas can gain the kind of momentum necessary to compete with foreign markets, while setting examples of success and a blueprint for other "start-up" businesses to follow. By targeting the needed areas now, America promotes real initiative and encourages an infrastructure of broad-based economic wealth.

Dean Caffentzis, Clearwater

Crist has been involved in education

I read with interest Martin Dyckman's Jan. 27 column (Education chief: no experience needed), addressing my campaign to become Florida's next commissioner of education. Dyckman once again provided us with a stark reminder of the contrast between his brand of opinion writing and the rigors of honest discourse. For that, I'm grateful. I'm less grateful for the manner in which he distorted my career and my campaign.

I've been privileged to have extensive involvement in public education in Florida on both the personal and professional levels. On the personal level, I am a product of Florida's public schools. I graduated from St. Petersburg High School and Florida State University. While at FSU, I was a student senator from the School of Education. My father was a member of the School Board in Pinellas County and eventually served as its chairman. (Interestingly, Dyckman stated that the tenure of Peter Wallace's mother on the School Board added sufficient gravitas to justify his run for education commissioner.) Two of my sisters were teachers, and one still serves the community as an assistant principal at Bay Point Middle School.

On a professional level, Tampa Bay voters twice elected me to the Florida Senate. In that position, I sponsored the Teacher Protection Act, pushed for CPA Education Minority Scholarships and seat belts in school buses and fought for teacher bonuses of $1,000, among other things. Currently, I serve on the commissioner's Blue Ribbon Commission on Education Governance. I've been a vocal advocate for neighborhood-run public schools, teacher salary increases, smaller class sizes and merit pay for teachers.

I have the experience to be Florida's next education commissioner. But more than that, I have the commitment to continue the effort to re-orient our schools away from bureaucracies and toward individual children and their parents. Dyckman is a champion of the status quo in public education and, put simply, I am not. I think it is unacceptable that almost half our children fail to graduate from high school. I think it is wrong that school bureaucrats work in posh offices while our teachers and children spend their days in portable classrooms. I think it is reprehensible that children feel threatened in their schools.

If Martin Dyckman wishes to debate public education, then let's begin with these issues, not with distortions and invective.

Charlie Crist, St. Petersburg

Accusations were baseless

Re: VA care was atrocious, letter, Jan. 22.

The St. Petersburg Times has constantly attacked the VA health care system. These attacks are without scientific, professional, ethical or even moral basis.

The latest example is the letter written by a dissatisfied patient. This patient accused his surgeon of being incompetent, based solely on a postoperative complication. This complication was appropriately treated and resolved at VA Mecial Center at Bay Pines.

It happens that this so-called "incompetent surgeon" is a graduate of the University of Chicago who completed his residency training at Johns Hopkins University and was awarded a life-long professorship at Columbia University. He moved to Florida to become a professor at the University of South Florida. His record is exemplary.

The only incompetent person in this episode is the editor who allowed this letter to be published without confirming the accuracy of the details of this complaint. This is yet another episode in the unprofessional crusade against the VA health system in which the Times has been engaged.

Times readers deserve better.

Said Hakky, M.D., staff urologist, Bay Pines VA Medical

system; ashsistant professor, University of South Florida,

Largo

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