From the County Manager Column from Nov. 9, 2021

Honoring the service of our veterans

Looking ahead to Veterans Day, I’m grateful to Maria Wetherall, Director of Veterans Services and Veterans Service Officer, for offering this guest post. Maria is one of many veterans working in Ramsey County to whom we owe our appreciation for her past and current service to our community and country. We are fortunate and proud to have dozens of veterans working in many different areas across Ramsey County. Please join me in thanking all our Ramsey County veterans – and our dedicated staff who assist them every day – for their service. And special acknowledgement is also extended toward the families and loved ones supporting every veteran during their moments of joy, tumult, celebration and isolation.  - Ryan

This Thursday, Nov. 11, our nation celebrates Veterans Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 fighting ceased, marking the end of World War I. The following year Nov. 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day to remind nations to seek peaceful resolutions to conflicts. In 1978, Nov. 11 became Veterans Day to maintain the historical significance of that day and honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Recognizing the importance of providing returning veterans with assistance to access the benefits they earned through their service in the military, in 1945 Minnesota policymakers enacted a new law authorizing counties to appoint Veteran Service Officers.

In Ramsey County, our small, but mighty Veterans Services department, consists of five Veteran Service Officers, one Veterans Services Assistant, one Veterans Services Social Worker, and our newest team member – a Homeless Justice Outreach Veterans Service Officer. Since opening our doors in 1952, Veterans Services staff has assisted more than 36,347 veterans and their families with accessing benefits.

All Veterans Services staff are available to educate, assist, support and serve Ramsey County Veterans, their dependents and their surviving spouses. We provide hands-on assistance with locating documents, filing claims for disability and pension benefits, enrolling in VA Medical Care, applying for emergency benefits and more. If you know a Ramsey County veteran – or their dependent or survivor – seeking assistance, we are available for them at ramseycounty.us/veterans or 651-266-2545. Currently, about 23,000 vets live in Ramsey County. Nearly 60% are from the Vietnam era with about 25% representing the World War II and Korean War eras. Those who served during the Persian Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, peacetime and others make up the balance.

As we continually seek to infuse creativity and build excellence in our service and operation, our top priorities in 2021 are:

  1. Finding new and better ways to serve veterans and their families as we move through and beyond the challenges of the pandemic.
  2. Improving how we reach out and connect with racially and ethnically diverse populations of veterans.
  3. Reinvent and redouble outreach to special populations of veterans, specifically women veterans and LGBTQ veterans.
  4. Initiating meaningful community engagement to better serve veterans and create more partnership opportunities.

A first step is conducting a survey of about 400 of the 2,000 veterans we served in 2021 to understand their satisfaction with our services and identify ways to better meet the unique needs of each veteran and dependent. The surveys will also provide veterans and dependents an opportunity to indicate interest in being involved in future projects and initiatives such as our Veteran Services Racial Equity and Community Engagement Action Team (RECEAT).

The purpose of our RECEAT is to convene staff and community to work together to advance racial and health equity in the day-to-day operations of our department and to develop strategies for serving residents better to ensure equitable outcomes. By gathering the feedback and insight from those most impacted by our services, we can implement targeted trainings, improve programs and reconstruct policies, practices and procedures using a racial and health equity lens. This foundation of community engagement and shared power is the first step of many to build and strengthen trusting relationships with all who have a history in the military service.

There is so much we can learn from veterans who have served in the U.S. Military to protect the freedoms we enjoy. Veterans living in the communities of Ramsey County stand prepared to share their experiences to educate and inspire a new generation. This past year, Veterans Services helped connect a group of Mounds View High School students seeking Vietnam veterans to share what serving in the military meant to them. The students had the veterans complete an interview questionnaire and then reflected on each response provided to create a powerful reflection piece. Here is an excerpt from that assignment:

Months ago, the Vietnam conflict didn't mean anything to us. After hearing the stories of Vietnam Veterans, their experiences highlighted to us that history still has an impact today. War effects people all across the globe, it sticks with people forever. Wars have the capacity to shape and destroy lives. We as a society would be doing a great disservice not only to veterans but also to the victims by letting the tragedy of war slip from our minds.”

On this Veterans Day, remember that it is often our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors who enlist to serve our country. As you enjoy this holiday intended to honor those who have served, remember to acknowledge and thank veterans you know or meet for their service. I encourage you to watch a new 30-minute recorded program honoring all who have served, which will be debuted by The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) at 8 a.m. on Veterans Day. It will be available beginning Nov. 11 on the MDVA website.

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