Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Caring For Those Who Have Borne The Battle

Caring For Those Who Have Borne The Battle
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

daugaard2Last year at this time, the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs launched Operation Reaching All Veterans. Seeking new ways to assist those who have served, the Department began an unprecedented effort to reach out to veterans all across the state.

Historically, American veterans haven’t always received the kind of support they deserve. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress did not have the authority or the money to pay soldiers, so payment was left to the states. Though General Washington and many of the Founders stressed the importance of justly compensating those fighting for liberty, the states just weren’t able to afford it. Only 3,000 out of the 200,000 who served in the war actually drew a pension.

By the time the Civil War began, a federal veteran pension system was in place, and by the end of the war – at the urging of Abraham Lincoln – veterans’ hospitals were opened.

We’ve come a long way since then. But even with all of our progress, there’s still more to do. As Lincoln put it in his second inaugural address, we must always strive to “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

Today we have a new generation to care for. Since 9/11, each of South Dakota’s 22 National Guard communities has experienced a unit mobilization in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn and Noble Eagle. To date, the South Dakota National Guard has deployed more than 7,200 Soldiers and Airmen in support of the Global War on Terror. Thankfully, for the first time in more than a decade, none of our National Guard soldiers or airmen are currently deployed overseas.

With a new generation of veterans to serve, the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs launched Operation Reaching All Veterans last January with the goal of reaching out to every single veteran in South Dakota. This campaign was a first for the Department and a first in the nation.  Their objectives were to educate veterans and their families about benefits, programs and services; to listen to concerns, provide key contacts to assist on a local level; and, most importantly, to say “thank you.”

The Department anticipates that there are 75,000 veterans living in South Dakota. Over the last year, staff and veterans service officers estimate they have already made contact with about two-thirds of those veterans by making phone calls, staffing a booth at the Capitol and holding 153 open houses in 63 counties. One veterans’ service officer, Tom Sparrow of Turner County, personally contacted over 11,000 veterans.

Larry Zimmerman, South Dakota Secretary of Veterans Affairs, says that this was just Phase I. Phase II will involve trying to reach those that they couldn’t reach by phone.

I know there is no way to fully repay our veterans for all they have sacrificed to protect our freedom. They left the comfort of their homes and the embraces of their loved ones to put their lives on the line for us. Still, I believe Operation Reaching All Veterans is making a difference, and it’s one step toward repaying just a small part of the debt we owe to those who have borne the battle.