County Manager Column from Nov. 10, 2020

From the County Manager

Honoring the extraordinary sacrifices of our veterans in an extraordinary year

Looking ahead to Veterans Day tomorrow, I’m pleased to present this guest post by Maria Wetherall, Director of Veterans Services and Veterans Service Officer. As an employer, we are proud to have dozens of veterans working at Ramsey County – please join me in thanking these employees and all our Ramsey County veterans, as well as our dedicated staff who assist them every day for their service. - Ryan

Sacrifice has been a theme throughout 2020 as our way of life has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us are being asked to change how we operate day to day for the common good – from how we interact with one another and socialize to how we eat, shop, worship, learn, recreate and virtually every other aspect of daily life. Let’s be honest – change is difficult even when we know it is an important part of how we move forward together. We’d all like life to "go back to normal" and someday we will return to life where we don’t need to be constantly aware of taking these measures to prevent the spread of COVID. The pandemic has given us all a deeper understanding of what it means to sacrifice for the common good, and with this understanding, a genuine connection to the sacrifice our military veterans embody. Our veterans’ sacrifices have protected communities across the United States for generations since the beginning of our nation and have preserved the freedoms we uniquely enjoy today. 

Tomorrow, we will again take time out to recognize and reflect on the service and sacrifice of our military veterans. Veterans Day originated with the historic peace agreement between the allied nations and Germany that marked the end of World War I. Having passed the century mark last year, we look ahead to our 102nd annual day of honor for veterans - first commemorated as Armistice Day to remind nations to seek peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

There are approximately 18.2 million veterans currently living in the U.S. More than half are over age 65 and have served our country during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam War eras. Here in Ramsey County, that trend is the same with about half of our 23,000+ veterans of retirement age.

Recognizing the importance of providing returning veterans with assistance to access the benefits they earned through their service in the military, in 1945 Minnesota policymakers enacted a new law authorizing counties to appoint Veteran Service Officers (VSOs).

Here in Ramsey County, our small but mighty Veterans Services department of five Veteran Service Officers and two assistants who have assisted more than 13,500 of our veterans with accessing benefits. The addition of a Veteran Social Worker to our staff in 2018 has enhanced our ability to provide hands-on case management and support to elderly, disabled veterans facing health and housing crises.

This year, our service model has changed dramatically due to COVID-19. The in-person interactions between our staff and our vets have been a hallmark of our work and these have essentially ceased. Like other departments, we’ve done our work over the phone, fax or by email – where we have the most dramatic change in activity. All told, our VSOs are busier than ever with nearly 19,000 interactions in 2020 – a significant increase over previous years.

I talked about this in a recorded Zoom workshop with the board on Oct. 27.

Watch the video via Zoom (password: .$4S#GN= video begins at 29:00)

Serving homeless veterans remains a priority for our small department, too. Working in collaboration with our partners that serve veterans in the community, we assisted dozens of homeless veterans living in Ramsey County with finding a home in the last year. In 2019, we increased our capacity with funding provided by the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. We added a Veteran Outreach Worker to focus on serving veterans experiencing homelessness by helping them find housing and access benefits.

All Veterans Services staff are available to educate, assist, support and serve Ramsey County veterans, their dependents and their surviving spouses. The Veterans Services department provides hands-on assistance with locating documents, filing claims for disability and pension benefits, enrolling in VA Medical Care, applying for emergency benefits and more.

If you know a Ramsey County veteran – or their dependent or survivor – seeking assistance, Veterans Services is available for them at ramseycounty.us/veterans or 651-266-2545.

On Veterans Day, remember that it is often our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors who enlist to serve our country. As you enjoy this holiday intended to honor those who have served, remember to acknowledge and thank veterans you know or meet for their service and their sacrifice. 

Due to the pandemic, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs won’t be producing the in-person event they typically do. Instead, they will debut a 30-minute video that will be available beginning tomorrow that honors all who have served. I encourage you to watch it.

Watch the video from MDVA