For more than 200 years, brave men and women have worn the uniform of the U.S. military in order to defend our freedom. These heroes have answered our nation’s call and served with honor and dignity. In return for their service, they deserve our respect, our gratitude and our profound appreciation for their dedication and sacrifice. That’s why, at the Oklahoma Capitol, working for our veterans continues to be a top priority. We can never fully repay the debt of gratitude owed to our veterans, but we can continue to pursue policies that recognize and honor their service.
Honoring our veterans starts with making sure they are properly equipped to do their job. That’s why we have personally visited Oklahoma National Guard facilities and troops preparing for deployment to ensure they have the best equipment and training possible to successfully carry out their mission. Besides physical equipment and training, we’ve also worked to provide our soldiers and airmen with the spiritual support they need before deploying and putting themselves in harm’s way. To do that, we’ve worked to spearhead a successful campaign to raise $2 million in private funds to build the new Thunderbird Chapel at Camp Gruber, a base that previously had been without a house of worship for decades.
Of course, when our veterans return from service, we want to ensure they are able to return to their jobs or find a new one. That’s why the state launched OKJobMatch.com, a website to connect veterans and other job seekers directly with employers. The site is a comprehensive employment resource for veterans. We encourage employers looking for highly motivated, skilled and dependable employees to visit this website and hire a veteran!
We’ve also worked with the Legislature to make students and dependents of military personnel who are from Oklahoma but stationed outside the state eligible to receive in-state college tuition. These initiatives will help our brave veterans to seek opportunities for educational advancement and find good jobs in Oklahoma.
When veterans return home with physical or mental injuries, the state of Oklahoma has made a promise to care for them and help them get well. To support that goal, this year’s state budget included a $1 million increase for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs to improve patient-to-staff ratios at the state’s veteran centers. The governor’s office also requested an audit of the ODVA and has tasked the War Veterans Commission with actively pursuing reforms to improve the quality of services at ODVA and at veterans centers in particular. These steps will help us ensure the state of Oklahoma is properly caring for our veterans and offering high quality services in the most efficient manner possible.
Sadly, when men and women put themselves in harm’s way to defend our nation, it’s inevitable not all of them will return. Oklahoma has lost 121 brave souls in wars since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Our nation is grateful for their service and grieves with their families for their loss. We promise the memory of these heroes and their sacrifices will not be forgotten. As we celebrate Veterans Day this November, we encourage all Oklahomans to remember and honor the great sacrifice of our fallen heroes, as well as the service of the more than 350,000 veterans living in our state today. Our veterans deserve nothing but the best, and that’s what we aim to give them.
GOV. MARY FALLIN may be reached via her website at http://www.ok.gov/governor/. Rita Aragon, an Edmond resident, is Oklahoma secretary of Veterans Affairs and a retired major general.