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Heitkamp: A Veterans Day promise

By Staff | Nov 14, 2014

President Teddy Roosevelt told an audience of veterans in 1903 that “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.” The great Rough Rider’s words are still relevant, as we continue to have servicemembers – men and women – answer the call to duty. And it remains our responsibility as a nation to make sure that when they return home, they get the support and services they bravely earned.

Throughout my time in public service, I’ve been lucky enough to travel all across North Dakota to hear from veterans about not only their past experiences but also what they hope for in the future. And it’s clear that for many of these former servicemembers, they simply don’t feel as connected as they should to the places they call home. It is a particular challenge for veterans living in rural communities in remote areas, including for many Native American veterans.

Five months ago in Bismarck, I held my first Native American Veterans Summit, which brought together Native American veterans with officials from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Indian Health Service to talk candidly about the challenges these veterans are confronted with on a daily basis. From poor communication between federal agencies to prohibitive travel times for veterans to simply get to VA health care facilities, the honest, six-hour conversation was eye-opening for many in the room that day. And I knew right away that Native veterans weren’t alone. Similar challenges impact veterans across North Dakota.

At that summit, I said when it comes to making sure veterans have the support and benefits they earned and deserve, we will do better. That’s why I took the stories from the summit, as well as the words of veterans from my numerous meetings with them around the state, and decided to offer some solutions.

This past summer, I introduced my Connect with Veterans Act. When I started writing this bill, I wanted to find a way to make sure our nation’s veterans had better access to programs, benefits and services so they can find opportunities, support groups, jobs and other supports in their communities. So many employers want to hire veterans for open positions. Why not help make that possible? My bill aims to help communities connect veterans with employers looking to hire veterans in their area, educational programs and important health care services.

By creating a database of contacts and resources for veterans, communities and Departments of Veterans Affairs locally and nationally, we would have the means to be proactive and directly reach out to these former servicemembers moving to their communities. And my bill would make all this participation voluntary – veterans, cities, towns and counties all would choose to participate, and veterans’ personal information would be kept fully secure throughout.

The benefits to such an effort are clear. Even though North Dakota’s economy is booming and we have open jobs throughout the state, often it’s still difficult for North Dakotans – including veterans – to find the right jobs. Earlier this year, I helped Northern Industrial Training, a Dickinson-based company that trains and employs veterans, get the funds it needed through the Post 9/11 GI Bill to complete its trainings. By partnering with the federal Hero 2 Hired program and its North Dakota coordinator, we were able to help returning veterans earn their commercial driver licenses – which can cost thousands of dollars – and find truck-driving jobs in the Bakken. No longer did they have to worry about putting food on the table for their families. Using my bill, I hope to make more stories like this one possible by bringing veterans, communities and resources together more easily.

There’s always more we should do for our veterans and their families, and my bill is a meaningful step in the right direction.

When we think about those who have put their lives on the line for our country around this Veterans Day, let’s do so with a renewed commitment that not only expresses our deep gratitude, but also reaffirms a promise we should all keep together – to never leave our fellow man or woman behind.

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