“We stand today, in their debt.”
2018 Veterans Day Message by Kelly Fitzpatrick, Director of ODVA
On Nov. 11, 1918, the U.S. State Department sent a very simple and short five word telegram. It read: “The armistice has been signed.” The signing marked the formal end of hostilities of World War I.
World War I service members surviving the battlefields in Europe did not come home to a robust system of veterans’ health care and benefits. They were hailed as heroes, thanked for their service and expected to reintegrate smoothly and get on with their lives.
We now know that those who have borne the battle may face challenges in returning to civilian life. Sadly, 100 years ago, this was not common knowledge, and the struggles of some returning WWI veterans were largely hidden from view by most of society.
They were not, however, hidden from the view of their fellow veterans.
They saw, they cared, and they vowed that no generation after them would have to weather the challenges unique to post-service life without support and resources.
When global war again broke out a generation later, and America’s brave service men and women again returned home from a foreign battlefield, forever changed by their service and sacrifices, the veterans of World War I were there.
Here in Oregon, they insisted upon the formation of a veteran home and farm loan program, which helped provide stable housing for thousands of returning service members. It also led directly to the foundation of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Today, the department strives to honor and serve a diverse population of 300,000 veterans, spanning four generations and five major wars. We work with a broad coalition of federal, state and local partners, including government agencies, nonprofits, service organizations and veteran service offices.
Veterans in our state can access vital and life-changing benefits, programs and resources in the areas of health care, education, mental health, housing, transportation, disability compensation, employment, adaptive services and more.
This is not to say that our work is done. Not by a long shot. The need is great, and ever-growing. But so is our network of dedicated partners and service members, and so is our resolve to accomplish our vital mission to see every veteran and their family thrive in Oregon.
It is appropriate on an occasion such as this, to pause and take stock of what we as a state have achieved. Last year, thanks to voters’ overwhelming approval of Measure 96, the Legislature made a historic investment in veteran services. Today, more Oregon veterans than ever before can access needed benefits and services in their own communities.
But we must also look back, to where it all began. We as a country owe the World War I generation a great debt. They fought to protect our lives, to safeguard our freedoms and to preserve our way of life. And most importantly, they paved the way for today’s veterans.
We stand today, in their debt.
Kelly Fitzpatrick is a retired Army veteran and director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.