It is easy to be hard on politicians, but sometimes they do something that really deserves praise. The Western Governors Association, an organization that includes over twenty Governors from the western states (including out in the Pacific Ocean), is holding its annual meeting this week in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Its current President is Governor Butch Otter from the great state of Idaho.
The first topic on the first day of the convention wasn’t about energy, or jobs, or taxes, or any of the big issues Governors have to deal with in their states.
It was about veterans.
Specifically, the title of the discussion was “Increasing Educational and Career Opportunities for Veterans.” Furthermore, it was the only topic being discussed by that impressive group of leaders on the first – and most pressworthy – day of the conference. They clearly are sending a message that returning veterans are a priority.
That is leadership, and it merits some well-deserved praise.
The panel discussion was kicked off by Governor Otter, and moderated by Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington state.
Governor Gregoire and Jeff Bacon in Coeur d’Alene
Joining the Governors were the former Secretary of the VA Jim Nicholson; Brigadier General Robert Hedelund, USMC; Col (ret) David Brasuell of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services; and me, representing the Wyakin Warrior Foundation.
The biggest issue that was discussed was the high unemployment rates for veterans (2% higher than non-veterans) and what the states could do to improve that. When it comes to returning National Guard units, the states endorsed Governor Gregoire’s system of tracking returning Guardsmen after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan and assisting them as they adjust to civilian life. According to her, the results have been stellar.
The news is not so rosy for DOD troops. Currently there is no mechanism to share information between the federal government and the states when a military member transitions. Consequently, there is little follow-up once they return home. The Governors decided to address this as a combined effort to encourage DOD to open the lines of communication. If they are successful, all returning veterans will be identified at the state level to facilitate outreach and identify problems before they become crises.
The panel also discussed severely wounded and injured veterans, who drop out of the workforce at twice the rate of all other veteran categories. The Wyakin Warrior Foundation’ scholarship and training package for severely wounded and injured veterans (www.wyakin.org) was used as an example of a comprehensive program that gives those who sacrificed for their country the tools they need to pursue meaningful and satisfying careers. The nature of the Wyakin Warrior program – bringing veterans back together again as they go to school and receive job training – addresses the growing problem of isolation by veterans. It is designed to be an exportable program, and the Governors were invited to start similar initiatives in their states to allow more options for those who are transitioning out of active duty.
It was a timely discussion, and showed the emphasis that Governor Otter and the other western Governors are putting on returning veterans and their families.
Good on them.