Skocik and Davis: Delaware’s 70,000 vets deserve more advocacy


Dave Skocik is the president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition and the Friends of Delaware Veterans. Paul Davis is the vice president of the coalition and the president of the Delaware council of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, when we honor those lost in service to our nation. They remain frozen in time in our hearts.

World War II veterans are increasingly being reassigned to the “Post Everlasting,” followed by those who served in Korea, with “baby boomer” Vietnam veterans in our mid-70s and 80s still dealing with the physical and psychological costs of our war.

That said, the middle-aged generation, who served nearly 40 years in harm’s way in the Middle East, is the next group we must address. But, while as many as a third of these patriots are focused on raising their families and building their careers, they are beginning to feel the effects of their service and waiting for promised care from Veterans Affairs. Because of backlogs, some are dying before it arrives.

That’s significant because it affects recruiting of their sons and daughters. According to the Pew Research Center, “Sixty percent of veterans under 40 have an immediate family member who served. Among new recruits, 30% have a parent in the military and 70% report a family member in the armed forces.” Particularly worrisome is that those numbers come from the fewer than 1% of Americans who have served in the military.

Particularly troubling is the still-shrinking pool of young men and women willing or able to take their place in a world of increasingly aggressive nations like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. It suggests a relationship in how we treat those who have served and recruiting the next generation of our defenders.

It also affects attitudes of the general population. Last October, the research institute Echelon Insights polled 1,029 likely voters and found that 72% would not be willing to volunteer to serve in the U.S. military if America entered a war with a serious adversary. Only 21% would be willing to volunteer to serve in the U.S. military under such circumstances. The remaining respondents were unsure about their willingness to fight for the country. This growing apathy toward military service raises concerns about national security.

It’s why, in February, the Delaware Veterans Coalition invited leaders from the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the Delaware National Guard, the Friends of Delaware Veterans, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Association of Black Veterans, Purple Heart veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Vietnam Veterans of America to a meeting to find their organizations’ priorities.

The results and follow-up contacts included better advocacy for our state’s 70,000 veterans and their families; better communication from the state about available opportunities; bringing additional federal dollars here by working more closely with federal officials (and Veterans Affairs) in a unified voice; working to increase pay for staffing at the Delaware Veterans Home in Milford, to increase census; training accredited veteran service officers; flexibility in recruiting help at our veteran cemeteries; better outreach to highly trained veterans to encourage them to remain in Delaware to help attract, recruit and retain high-tech businesses in the First State; and a voice in the creation of the state budget.

Veterans and their earned federal benefits for health care at state and federal facilities, for higher education at Delaware’s colleges and universities, for vocational training, and for retirement and disability payments amounts to some $4 billion in federal monies coming to Delaware each year. Delaware ranks 48th of 50 states in receipt of federal dollars. Additional federal dollars will reduce costs to taxpayers, especially in health care.

All agreed that the most logical solution to these myriad challenges would be the creation of a secretary of veterans affairs in the governor’s cabinet. The tasks are currently under Delaware’s secretary of state position, which has multiple responsibilities unrelated to veterans.

We urge our governor and elected officials to back House Bill 399 with bipartisan support and to create a secretary of veterans affairs to proactively address challenges and issues affecting those who serve. The legislation would move through the Finance Committee and the House of Representatives and Senate before it’s presented to the governor, in what could be a defining legacy of his two terms before he runs for mayor of Wilmington.

The bottom line is that this bill will create a legacy of understanding and support for those who serve our state and nation, and truly reflect our common commitment to their families and to the memory of those who passed their values and love of country to us.

Visit the General Assembly’s website for more information.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

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