Nothing brings out the pander bear in politicians like veterans in distress. Send an email to your congressman that you saw one Gulf War veteran sleeping under a bridge and Rep. Foghorn will call a press conference demanding federal action to remove veterans from beneath America’s overpasses.

Sometimes America’s veterans ARE truly in distress. Indeed, the unemployment rate for those who served and returned from Iraq and Afghanistan is more than three points higher than among the civilian population. Some veterans’ hospitals have suffered from neglect, as the appalling conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center demonstrated. And returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have significantly higher rates of poor mental than the general population.

Those are real problems that affect the well being of the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much in service to their country. They’re also problems that demand our attention and cry out for solutions among elected officials, health professionals and the business community.

Then, of course, there are the relatively trifling problems that nonetheless capture the attention of politicians who can’t resist the temptation to suck up to the military community. Look, we all support the troops — or at least most of us do. But should we demean our men and women in uniform by catering to every perceived slight — real or imagined?

To wit, Reps. Chris Murphy and Rosa DeLauro have introduced a bill to protect veterans’ memorials. Why? Over the last couple of years, there have been four instances in which bronze or brass memorials have been stolen in Connecticut, presumably for the re-sale value of raw materials.

Fair enough, you say? We need to make it a crime to steal memorials and send a message to the thieves who hit Derby, Ansonia, New Britain and Shelton that their despicable acts will not be tolerated? But there’s only one problem with that logic: the theft of veterans memorials is already illegal. What Murphy and DeLauro want to do is make it a federal crime if the stolen memorial is transported across state lines.

“The most recent theft of these memorials for scrap metal is sickening,” said Murphy, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the retiring Joe Liebermann.

Agreeing with her colleague, DeLauro added, “That is why I am proud to support the Protect Veterans’ Memorials Act with Congressman Murphy, which will help to put an end to these disgraceful thefts.”

Really? In the state of Connecticut, the theft of property worth more than $10,000, including the aforementioned memorials, is larceny in the first degree, a Class B felony punishable by up to 20 years in jail. According to the Connecticut penal code, that would put the theft of most veterans memorials on a par with manslaughter, rioting in a correctional facility, money laundering, the possession of child pornography and the manufacturing of bombs. If you ask me, that’s pretty serious stuff.

The point is that whatever you may think of the theft of veterans memorials — and I agree that it’s despicable — it is already a serious crime. But that’s not enough for politicians who fall all over themselves to curry favor with soldiers past and present.

Whether it be Sen. Richard Blumenthal trying to bond with veterans by falsely suggesting he had served in Vietnam, or the ludicrous Stolen Valor Act of 2005, politicians think they must do somersaults to show their appreciation for our brave veterans, even if it means passing useless laws or criminalizing false statements not made under oath or given to law enforcement authorities.

The Stolen Valor Act, which passed unanimously in the Senate and by voice vote in the House, imposes fines or imprisonment on anyone who who falsely claims to have been awarded a military decoration or congressional medal. The act was proposed because of a relative handful of charlatans who lied about their service but otherwise harmed no one. Thankfully, the act has been challenged, so the U.S. Supreme Court will rule next year on the constitutionality of the boneheaded law.

Our wretched national economy is still struggling to rebound from three years of recession and sluggish growth. Connecticut has the worst new job creation rate in the nation over the last two decades and our elected representatives in Washington have nothing better to do than waste their time proposing redundant and symbolic legislation? Might that explain why fewer people view Congress favorably than a whole bunch of unsavory topics like BP, polygamy, communism and Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal?

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.