Americans who voluntarily risk their lives to protect this nation understand the realities of war. For many, however, an ambush lies in wait stateside.A new poll found that more than half of the 2.6 million U.S. troops who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now are paying a hellish price. The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation survey found many service members struggle with physical and mental-health problems, joblessness, and finding their civilian groove.Post-traumatic-stress symptoms haunt more than 1 million Global War on Terror vets. And suicide casts a treacherous pall: One in two in the poll knew a service member who’d tried or committed suicide.More than half believe the government has failed miserably in tending to service members’ needs. Uncle Sam, many insist, forgot the “leave no man behind” ethos once Johnny came limping or trundling home.Against that backdrop, the so-called Florida GI Bill Gov. Rick Scott signed this week stands out as a welcome bit of triage for the state’s 1.5 million veterans, 61,000 active duty military personnel, and 12,000 or so members of the Florida National Guard.The law — which may cost up to $30 million in its maiden year — sets aside part of that sum to buffer bases and modernize armories.More important for the ranks of Florida’s hurting service members, the Legislature continues its long focus on education to ease the transition from military to civilian life. No longer will honorably discharged veterans who come to Florida pay out-of-state tuition fees to attend state colleges, university and career centers.A smart move, because better-educated veterans enjoy significantly lower jobless rates.Nevertheless, the long game isn’t for every vet. The James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee-based policy center, found that for War on Terror vets, finding good-paying jobs is the “biggest problem they face.”Service members and veteran-advocacy groups have criticized Florida’s efforts in helping veterans find quality jobs. States like Texas — which launched a veteran-staffed program that finds post 9-11 veterans through unemployment contact information and military discharge papers, tracks down job leads and engages employers — have been particularly aggressive on the job front.To that end, the Florida GI Bill expands employment preferences for veterans. It waives professional licensing fees up to five years after an applicant’s discharge. And it creates Florida is for Veterans Inc. In addition to promoting Florida to veterans, the nonprofit will shore up service members’ job-hunting and work-force skills and play matchmaker for veterans and employers. Good.It’s too early to declare, “Mission accomplished.” However, with the Florida GI Bill, lawmakers took another strong step forward in Florida’s march to seize the title of America’s most military-friendly state.
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