On Saturday, the Arizona Veterans' Service Advisory Commission held a regular business meeting at Payson's American Legion Post. The Commission is a nine-member board appointed by Gov. Janet Napolitano to act on behalf of active military, veterans of the military and their families. They are the eyes and ears of the Governor to keep a hand on the pulse of the veteran community in the state of Arizona and advise the Governor and the Director of the Arizona Department of Veterans' Services with respect to legislation as it impacts veterans.
The Commission is designed to meet annually in each of four geographic regions. The meeting in Payson covered the counties of Apache, Navajo, Coconino and Gila.
Although widely publicized in the media, the response was less than expected. The approximately 35 to 40 attendees included veterans from the community and region, as well as local veterans' organization commanders Jim Muhr (VFW), Sherman Alston (American Legion), Misti DeCaire (AMVET) and Commandant Gordon Holm (Marine League).
Although attendance was low, this did not detract from the quality of the meeting, with active participation by all. It became quite obvious from the onset that this would be a very productive and rewarding experience.
After a rousing welcome from Payson's mayor, Bob Edwards, the commissioners, headed by Commissioner Webb Ellis, introduced themselves and it was noted that they spanned the spectrum of military services, experience and ranks. Furthermore, it became readily apparent, by their demeanor, candor, knowledge and professionalism that they were qualified and, obviously, had the best interests of veterans at heart.
From the beginning, the commissioners established a rapport with the audience and there was no sign of the "we vs. them" syndrome, which sometimes takes place during such encounters.
After a brief business meeting, the commissioners, aided by Veterans Administration representatives from Prescott and Phoenix, set about fielding various issues raised by those present. Although it was explained that it was not the commission's intent to deal with personal problems, quality issues were raised which ran the gamut from veterans' license plates and other benefits to veterans' health care, from veterans' disability ratings to fair and just compensation ratings.
All the issues raised were addressed and either answered or duly noted and taken back for further assessment. Each member of the commission demonstrated their knowledge, experience, professionalism and obvious intent to be honest, forthright and candid in expressing their views. The meeting was a very refreshing and rewarding experience for all concerned.
DeCaire said, "We are encouraged by this experience and need people like this to help our veterans."
Muir said, "I am impressed by the initiative taken to go out into the rural areas of the state and see what's happening with the veterans and in the genuine interest demonstrated."
Alston said, "I am very impressed and I noted the same from all in attendance." Holm echoed the sentiment. "This was a positive experience and we appreciate being part of the process," he said.
Although the commission deals mainly with legislation and its impact on veterans, therein lies many of our problems, as well as the source for resolution. The commission has wisely taken the first and positive step to go out into the field to discover what is happening with our veterans with an honest desire to make things better. It is now our choice to meet them halfway and participate.
Forums such as this represent a positive venue for veterans to express what is needed in the veteran community. The state of Arizona is fast becoming a proactive force for veterans and we must seize the opportunity to be heard. It is our responsibility and obligation to our veterans, past, present and future to do so. This is a case where numbers and voices count. Let us be heard and let us be counted. The way in which this meeting was conducted from beginning to end is testimony to its validity and benefit to the veterans in our state. It was very well done and a tribute to the good things that we can do.
Thanks to all who made it happen.