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It's called a "slippery slope" argument, an over-used form of reasoning that suggests one course of action will lead to others undesirable or perhaps calamitous. When an idea presented isn't necessarily easy to argue against, it's sometimes too tempting to imagine all sorts of unacceptable trajectories that will be irretrievably launched by the decision at hand.

People use the slippery slope all too often. We don't recommend it, because once it's employed, it leads to all sorts of negative consequences for ... wait a minute ... doh!

What’s the point?

Kudos to the Fayetteville Veterans Home for the work behind recent high marks for the facility.

Yes, yes, it's easy to slip down that slope, but sometimes for good reason.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman got a legislative victory the other day when the Department of Veterans Affairs bill cleared Capitol Hill. Boozman, Arkansas' senior senator, proposed a legal change to broaden the definition of the term "veteran."

Who knew, at least among us civilian types, that someone could serve in the National Guard or reserve components of the military for years, even decades, but emerge from the experience unable to legally refer to himself as a veteran?

Until passage of Boozman's measure, only those who served at least 180 consecutive days on active duty were considered veterans by the U.S. government. Some members of the National Guard or reserves have been called into active duty and have served enough consecutive days to qualify, but there are plenty who cannot be considered veterans because they were never activated for that long.

Boozman's legislation will extend honorary veteran status to reserve component and Guard members who served more than 20 years but who don't meet the active-duty requirement.

The measure doesn't change anyone's eligibility for Veterans Affairs benefits. The term "veteran" is all those who qualify get to use. Nothing more.

"It's just words, but it sure means a heck of a lot to some folks," said retired Col. Pat Teague, who served 29 years in the Arkansas National Guard.

Boozman pushed for the change because it didn't seem right these men and women didn't even qualify to call themselves veterans.

"They were serving in the National Guard. They were prepared to do whatever their country asked them to do," Boozman said. "They drilled monthly, went to summer camp, did all the things that were asked of them but sometimes, just by the way things fall, they don't meet all of the criteria of the veterans designation. But everybody agrees that those individuals certainly were ready and able to risk their lives if necessary and deserve the status of being a veteran."

Who can argue against such a feel-good outcome? Well, for six years the bill languished out of concern it would open the door to more "veterans" claiming veterans benefits, the ones our country often struggles to get right for those who already qualify. Welcome back to the downhill slip-and-slide.

But that would never happen, right?

Listen to the response of Sgt. 1st Class James Howard, president of the Enlisted Association of the Arkansas National Guard, discussing the prospect of future benefits expansions: "I think that would be a great conversation to have in the future. Maybe [Boozman's change] will open people's eyes and be worth looking at in the future."

Yes, one can argue a simple word or definition change doesn't matter because it's "just words." But just watch: A few years down the line, these new "veterans" will be clamoring for their benefits just like all those other veterans get.

Is that bad? Perhaps not, but it's a debate that shouldn't get its start with some innocent-sounding definition change pushed by a U.S. senator.

The next time someone suggests words and their meanings matter, it's probably worth listening. And usually, when someone says a change in government definitions is in "name only," it's likely the long-term effects will be farther reaching than anyone expects.

Happy sliding.

Commentary on 12/28/2016

Print Headline: For our veterans

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