|Sometimes when our friends and family have experienced terrible loss or are facing extraordinary hardships, it is hard to know how to help. We don't want to interfere or take the risk of saying the wrong thing. It can feel easier to leave people to their grief and struggles.
Gov. Kulongoski greets Maj. William Edwards at the National Guard's 41st Brigade Combat Team's deployment ceremony in May.
This comes to mind as I reflect on what a difficult summer it has been for Oregon's National Guard. Shortly after the 2,700 members of the 41st Infantry landed in Iraq, two soldiers were injured and two were killed.
It has left the Oregon National Guard Community reeling and my heart breaks for their families.
Unfortunately, sometimes it feels as though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are often largely invisible to the rest of the state and people are not paying attention to the challenges facing our military families.
That is why I am proud of DHS's involvement in two efforts happening this summer to help Oregon's veterans in partnership with the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs.
The first is a statewide push to ensure that Oregon vets have access to the services available to them through both the state and federal governments. There are services to help with home loans, car purchases and educational opportunities and other supports to help remove barriers so families can rebuild their lives.
Of 350,000 veterans in Oregon, only 80,000 are receiving federal VA benefits -- 270,000 veterans may be eligible, but are not in the system. As part of that effort we are making a concerted push in our client interactions to identify veterans' families. It is as simple as asking the question: Are you a veteran?
If the answer is yes, we will provide them with a postcard with information on how to contact the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs to learn more about the services available. We are also promoting veterans' services through a special link on the DHS Web site.
Here is the link to the ODVA benefits Web page: http://www.oregon.gov/ODVA/VETFORM.shtml. Please spread the word that there is a one-stop page for Oregon veterans and families to go for information.
DHS is also participating in an important information campaign about the struggles many veterans have with managing the pain of injuries received while on active duty. Advances in trauma medicine and body armor mean that more of our men and women are coming home, but many of them are in acute pain and facing the possibility of a lifetime of chronic pain.
Too often people in chronic pain don't know how to advocate for themselves to receive optimal pain care; veterans are not aware of medical resources within both the VA and civilian care systems. To help spread that message, next week I will be participating in an event with combat-wounded Navy corpsman Derek McGinnis and the ODVA. McGinnis has written a book called Exit Wounds: A Survival Guide to Pain Management for Returning Veterans and their Families. With the assistance of the DHS Pain Management office and a national grant, the book will be distributed free to every Oregon veteran.
These efforts remind our Oregon veterans and families that they are not alone -- that we want to be here to help the families of soldiers currently serving, ease the reentry of the soldiers coming home, and remember and honor those who are lost to us forever.
We are in a time when half of the members of our total Army National Guard -- more than 3,000 soldiers -- are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. We must not let them fight this war on their own. We must continue to offer our help and continue to bear witness.
To keep track of the Oregon National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Oregonian has a blog with constant updates: OregonatWar.