Former Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff Robert Vessey with Khao Insixiengmay, Lao Advancement Organization of America and Royal Lao Veterans of America
By J. Lee
The State of Minnesota commemorated Veterans Day “Honoring All Who Served” Defending Liberty and Freedom on what some believe as a “lucky day” because of the numbers “11.11.11”.
Eric Shinseki, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee designated the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights as a Regional Site for Veterans Day 2011. Ceremonies opened with Minnesota VFW Commander Ray Trebus and MN Dept. of Veterans Affairs Commissioner-General Larry Shellito who also received Governor Mark Dayton’s Proclamation Honoring Veterans.
All speakers thanked the veterans, service members and families for their service and sacrifices.
The one Asian Pacific American veteran present in a gymnasium full of people, found out about the event from major media. APA veterans have been invited to prior Minnesota Veterans “Day at the Capitol” and Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial recognizing veterans. They are asked to help candidates run for office or attend other events, and for their APA events, have asked the same speakers to attend.
Lao of America’s annual spring dinner and dance had more activities and Commissioner-General Larry Shellito presented them Governor Mark Dayton’s Proclamation acknowledging the importance of their organization serving veterans and the community. APA veterans need the help of the community and others in getting recognition as veterans, and being equally deserving of the same respect, benefits and support as non APA veterans.
“Freedom is not Free”, stated Governor Mark Dayton. He called attention to the veterans who fought at Normandy during World War II where he visited and the patriotism and heroism shown in the Middle Eastern wars. He reflected on the “citizen warriors” who gave up their lives, their future, their families, their hopes and dreams for us”, and spoke of the anguish experienced by their families and friends.
Dayton mentioned efforts to have veterans buried with military honors. Support from the community and others are needed in securing these honors for APA veterans too.
“The best service program is a job,” said Dayton. With Minnesota unemployed veterans being double the national average, Governor Dayton said he would “expand the Minnesota GI Bill to include all veterans in all wars to provide veterans with the training needed for jobs, and that he would do all he could can do for businesses to hire veterans.
Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General and Department of Military Affairs Commissioner General Richard Nash thanked and honored the men and women who served the United States and for standing up when the nation needed them. He praised their motivation, skills, and work towards building better communities, the state and nation.
Referring to their economic power, Commissioner Nash encouraged businesses to hire veterans. But he spoke on veterans’ needs in accessing mental health, social and other services; and meeting the needs of female veterans.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that Congress worked bi-partisan on the issues and passed a Veterans Hire Act that provides for tax credit to companies hiring veterans and education for veterans. She said healthcare is another issue to be addressed, and renewed her commitment to honor and support veterans, and called on others to do the same.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken acknowledged veterans who gave up everything for our country, “for us”, and those who “gave up their lives and future.” He called on people to act towards helping veterans with jobs, homes, and family needs as part of what’s owed to them.
Franken spoke on healthcare for veterans in rural areas. He also said that people can call on all members of Congress. He said this is an opportunity for APA veterans, service members, their families and friends, advocates, service providers and others to give input on issues affecting APA veterans, including not receiving the critical information, resources, and benefits needed, especially from earlier meetings and forums they were excluded from.
The APA veterans and community need strong advocacy and support as Sen. Franken demonstrated in 2009 where following his acknowledgement of issues voiced by the Asian community brought together by Rep. Cy Thao and Senator Mee Moua, he made a trip to Laos to try and solve some of the problems.
Minn. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-4) talked of her experience in veterans organizations as daughter of a WWII disabled veteran. She referred to service veterans gave both in the military and in communities.
Committing to veterans in “making sure you have what you need”, Congresswoman McCollum also asked veterans to collect their stories. Besides attending veterans events held by different groups, McCollum earlier outreached to people in her district inviting them to her “Town Halls” in St. Paul on Jobs and in Maplewood on Veterans Issues.
As a member of the House Appropriations & Budget Committees, she is also on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Congressman Keith Ellison brought attention to our freedoms of speech, religion, open press and rights to justice as due veterans fighting for democracy, liberty and justice. As with other speakers, Congressman Ellison thanked the veterans.
Jason Frye spoke for Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. She referred to veterans as “Ambassadors” and “Heroes.”
Congressman Erik Paulsen referred to veterans as “all gave some, and some gave all” and that “we owe a debt of gratitude” to them.
The Minnesota Dept. of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) is “dedicated to serving Minnesota Veterans and their families”. www.mdva.state.mn.us, (651) 296-2562. www.MinnesotaVeteran.org, 1-888-LinkVet (5838). U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs in St. Paul 1-800-827-1000. USDVA Health Care System (612) 725-2000. MDVA Claims office (612) 970-5662. Veterans Preference (651) 757-1568. Higher Education Veterans Programs for veterans, military members and their families: www.mymilitaryeducation.org, 1-800-456-8519. APAHC – the Asian Pacific American Housing Consortium (contact via [email protected], attn. Lee) has a list of service providers helping the Asian Pacific American community who need to be included on the list of resources given out by MDVA and other veteran organizations and agencies. Commissioner Shellito is changing how MDVA personnel respond to the APA community by adding a Laotian staffer to assist the Asian community.