I had a birthday a few weeks ago, and for the first time in my life I qualify for senior citizen discounts at a few places, like the Goodwill store in Amsterdam where I buy books and other things. But why should a business give me a discount simply because I turned 55? I have done nothing to be rewarded in this way, except to manage to avoid major accidents and illnesses.
I could have used the discount 30 years ago when we were raising our family and our income was low. Although I am not wealthy, I can afford to pay full price now, but it was difficult then. I still remember one week when our entertainment budget only allowed us to take a walk with our first child through Amsterdam’s Green Hill Cemetery in the fall when the leaves had turned, and I bought a candy bar to split three ways. (A better memory, by the way, than some of our more expensive outings.)
But, as many seniors are fond of stating, “I’m on a fixed income.” Who isn’t these days, whether you are working or not?
The case of veterans
Seniors are not the only people who receive undeserved discounts. So do many veterans. Men and women who are in the military deserve to be properly compensated while in the military. They should not have to get food stamps. They deserve to be rewarded for their services. Veterans who suffer physically and mentally must be taken care of properly, for life if necessary. VA hospitals should be the best hospitals in the country. Veterans who have suffered from combat or other horrors of war deserve compensation, including discounts.
But the wholesale giving of discounts to all veterans doesn’t make sense.
I did not always think this way. Back in 1985, the Postal Service hired me. While I was taking the road test in order to get my federal license, I mentioned that it was great that the Postal Service gave veterans extra points on the exam, which enabled many more of them to get hired. The driving instructor, a war veteran, said I was wrong, that it was unfair.
“Think of how many people don’t have the opportunity to join the military and can’t take advantage of the benefits,” he said. He pointed out that extra points for all veterans made it much more difficult for women to get into the post office, because during most of our history women were expected to stay home. It also wasn’t fair to men who were rejected by the military. Furthermore, he pointed out that in today’s military, the majority of soldiers don’t have combat-related jobs.
His conclusion was that perks veterans get when they leave the military should be based on need. Wounded, disabled and low-income veterans need help, including discounts. But not all veterans.
Nevertheless, Schenectady County is now issuing a card that gives veterans a 10 percent discount at participating businesses, regardless of need. And a recent letter writer in the Gazette suggests that the state give veterans tax-free land. Why? Because “Veterans have sacrificed their lives for freedom for decades.”
While World War II was a war worth fighting, and while thousands of Americans did sacrifice their lives for freedom during that war, and while all veterans are worthy of respect, the truth is that only a small percentage of soldiers have sacrificed their lives for freedom (or the defense of America) since 1945.
Most sacrificed their lives because a president did not want to lose face by withdrawing from Vietnam, because a president wanted to keep oil flowing to America at reasonable prices, because a president wanted revenge, because a president wanted to replace a Marxist or socialist dictator in the Middle East or Latin America with one more friendly to us and so on.
The letter writers mentioned the high suicide rate among veterans. There are two solutions. One, provide them with the best health care possible. Two, get the hell out of Afghanistan and Iraq, where we should have never been in the first place, where the atrocities of war committed by both sides can unhinge the most stable mind.
There are other groups who sometimes get discounts. Some bookstore chains give teachers discounts. And I often have ministers come into my store and ask for a ministerial discount. I don’t normally give discounts, but if I have needy customers — whether veterans, seniors, teachers, ministers or young parents — I sometimes give them a discount or a free book.
And that’s what the criterion for discounts should be — need.
I have no problem with discounts and tax breaks for low-income and disabled veterans, seniors or anyone else. But why should I get discounts and a property tax break when I reach a certain age, and expect other taxpayers to pick up the rest of my tab, if I am not needy? There is no reason except that seniors vote and AARP, which now takes in members as young as 50, has a big yawp.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.