November 11th originally marked the armistice between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I. Today, Veterans Day honors the service and sacrifice of all Americans who have raised their right hand, worn the uniform, defended our freedom, and stood guard over our peace.
After the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, WWI service members did not come home to a robust veterans’ health and benefit system. They banded together in service organizations and fought to advocate for the system of support we have today.
They helped found the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs in 1945 and our team is proud to continue their advocacy. The common cadence across our over 70 year history is our timeless mission to serve and honor Oregon veterans.
At the same time, we know that the success of our efforts depends on the leadership of Oregon’s veterans and community partners across the state. Together, we continue to make a difference.
Over the past two years, the veteran community and partners have tirelessly advocated for additional resources to support veterans and their families. Citizens across the state added their voice in November 2016 when they approved by a resounding 84 percent to amend the state’s Constitution to dedicate 1.5% of net lottery revenues to better serve Oregon’s veterans.
Through the bipartisan leadership of the Governor and Legislature this year, Oregon has approved a historic investment in veteran services – funds that will go to ensure the health, education and economic opportunity of our veterans and their families.
The resulting budget invests significantly in veteran services at the local level as well as in efforts to support non-profit and community partners. There is a particular focus to mobilize partnerships to better support student veterans on campus, ensure all veterans have access to mental health resources, and prevent veterans from becoming homeless.
As we build a system to better serve all veterans, we also have targeted outreach to underserved veteran populations. This includes Vietnam veterans, the largest segment of our veterans’ community, and a group that was not welcomed home in their own time and has unique issues as they age.
We also have been proud to better connect to Oregon’s LGBTQ and women veterans. Women veterans are the fastest rising demographic in our veterans’ community and we must continue to do better to help them access benefits and resources. We proudly stand as an advocate for all veterans and service members who served with honor.
Ultimately, the diversity of our veterans’ community does not divide us, but unites us. There is a shared bond across all veterans no matter where we live or when we served.
As four generations of veterans across five major wars, we stand on the shoulders of all those who have come before us. And together as advocates, we will continue to charge the hill for our veterans and their families.
Thank you for your continued dedication, advocacy and support!
Cameron Smith served three tours in Iraq as a Marine and is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.