This year has been like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives, while the national elections have focused conversations around the future of our democracy.
As we approach Veterans Day on Nov. 11, I know this: the military veterans who dedicated themselves to protecting our country and our ideals of democracy around the world deserve the honor we show them on Veterans Day.
Virginia is home to more than 721,000 veterans – the second largest percentage of veterans per population of any state. In fact, one in every 12 of our citizens is a veteran. I myself am a proud Army veteran, and I know that those who have served in our military are some of our best and brightest examples of public servants.
In Virginia, we continue to support our veterans in every way possible.
That means working to alleviate another epidemic that greatly affects veterans and active service members: suicide. An average of 17 veterans take their own lives each day across the country. Virginia has partnered with state and federal agencies and medical providers to help recognize and prevent these tragedies, including our active participation in the national Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Veteran Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families.
Supporting veterans also means acknowledging the contributions of women veterans and recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities they face. Virginia has one of the largest population of women veterans of any state – more than 108,000. The Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs (VDVS) holds an annual Virginia Women Veterans Summit. More than 800 people participated in this year’s virtual summit. Virginia also honors women veterans with a Women Veterans Week during the third week of March.
As the pandemic touched every aspect of our lives, it also required our VDVS offices to change how they serve our veterans. During the early period, VDVS closed its 34 offices throughout the state, while staff continued to assist thousands of veterans and families by telephone, email, and virtual meetings. In the past few months, VDVS offices have been reopening with personal appointments to help ensure that Virginia veterans receive the federal and state veterans’ benefits they earned through their service and sacrifice.
The pandemic also created major disruptions in our state economy, but this did not stop our Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program team members and partner employers from connecting veterans to jobs across the Commonwealth. Virginia created this unique public-private partnership eight years ago, and it now includes 2,100 participating employers statewide. When I became Governor in 2018, I challenged the V3 staff to meet a goal of 35,000 hires during my four-year term.
I am proud to say that last month, V3 surpassed this goal — more than a year early. This is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Our highly skilled and disciplined veterans are a major asset to the economic well-being of the Commonwealth.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary restrictions implemented to help stop the spread of this virus have meant that many ceremonies, parades, and other special events planned to commemorate Veterans Day 2020 have been scaled down or postponed until next year. Nevertheless, communities, volunteer groups, and veterans’ service organizations across the Commonwealth have found new or innovative ways to honor our veterans. The Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony still will take place at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond this year with a limited number of attendees to protect the health of us all. For this reason, and to bring the ceremony to even more citizens across Virginia, the ceremony will be livestreamed on social media and aired on select television stations. I encourage all Virginians to join together virtually to honor veterans on this day.
Here in America, we hold tightly to the fundamental ideals of democracy, of liberty and equality for all. These are ultimately the freedoms our veterans have devoted their time, skills, and energy to protect, both at home and abroad. They are truly public servants. On behalf of the Commonwealth, on this Veterans Day, I say thank you.
Northam is governor of Virginia.