On Veterans Day: Honoring and Helping Those Who Have Defended Us

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As the daughter of a combat veteran, I know the tremendous value of veterans’ service, their core principles of honor, courage, and commitment, and their needs after returning from deployment.

Our part of the nation is especially rich in military veterans – which makes sense given both our many nearby military installations, such as Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and our past military heritage, including MCAS El Toro (now the Orange County Great Park), MCAS Tustin (now The District in Tustin and a proposed regional park), and the Santa Ana Army Air Base (now the Orange County Fairgrounds).

More than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state. Southern California is also home to more young veterans than anywhere else in the nation. Nearly 7,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in Orange County, the 25th most in any U.S. county, while our neighboring counties to the South (San Diego), North (Los Angeles), and East (San Bernardino) are numbers one, two, and 15.

But despite the fact that young veterans often enter the workforce with far more skills and experience than their civilian peers, new veteran unemployment is significantly higher than the overall rate and the unemployment rate for non-veterans. For new veterans aged 18-24, the unemployment rate averaged 20.4% in 2012, more than five percentage points higher than the average among non-veterans aged 18-24. These young veterans need – and deserve – more of our help with employment, education, health care, and other services.

Here in Irvine, we honor and provide support to our veterans through the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee, which provides charitable and educational activities and support for the benefit and welfare of the marines and their families assigned to Camp Pendleton, with special emphasis on the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines (known as the “2/11 Marines”). The Committee solicits private and public donations of cash, food, beverages, and new and used material goods to help underwrite the cost of sponsoring participants. The Committee also holds special events throughout the year in addition to an ongoing recycling program which donates the proceeds from recyclables to support 2/11 Marines and their families and a letter writing and care package project. Volunteers are welcome. Please contact Irvine211@yahoo.com for more information.

Irvine student veterans are served by the Irvine Valley College Veterans Service Center, (949-451-5296), located in Room SSC 120, IVC Student Services Center and UCI Veteran Services, (949-824-3500), located in G304 UCI Student Center.

Irvine Valley College Veterans Service Center is dedicated to helping veterans and their families access the wide range of education benefits offered by the V.A.,  well as answering any questions veteran students or dependents may have concerning their educational benefits, including California’s Troops to College program of the California State University.

UCI Veterans Services provides veterans, reservists, active-duty members and dependents assistance in obtaining the educational benefits to which they are entitled. The office is responsible for submitting entitlement requests for new and continuing students to the V.A., answering any questions veteran students or dependents may have concerning their educational benefits and providing resources and programs to assist veterans in navigating their transition to civilian and student life.

A local organization dedicated to helping veterans that I especially recommend is Veterans First, the only nonprofit 501c (3) community-based agency in Orange County with the purpose of providing services exclusively to homeless veterans and their families.  Veterans First provides an all-inclusive effort that includes housing and nutritional meals, case management, substance abuse aftercare, life skills and transportation, employment assessment, job training and job placement assistance.

Please join me in honoring our veterans on this Veterans Day – and every day – by helping those who have defended us.

Thank you for your service, Irvine veterans. Now it is time for us to be there for you.