Veteran’s Week wrapped up Friday as Dean of Students Robert Dana and the UMaine Veterans Association hosted the first Veterans Recognition Luncheon, planned to be held annually. The event was held in the Bangor room in the Memorial Union. Several state politicians attended, including Maine’s First Lady Ann LePage and U.S. Congressman Mike Michaud, both of whom gave brief presentations honoring veterans.
“I must say, I applaud the university’s efforts to recognize and support our military service members,” LePage said.
LePage has set her primary focus toward Maine veterans and their families and has hosted dinners at the Blaine House in Augusta for veterans and their families. On Friday, she urged the public and Maine’s business leaders to support service members coming home from active duty.
“Many people will tell you that returning home after experiencing military combat can be a challenge,” LePage said. “Reintegrating into the workplace and family life can be a daunting task. These men and women, our veterans, are expected to return home and act like they never left. Many of these individuals share a bond and experiences that you and I will never understand. When our troops come home, it’s important that we as communities come together, gather around and make the transition as easy as possible.”
LePage mentioned that colleges, government and local agencies all have a place supporting veterans, specifically to help educate veterans on the services and support programs that are offered.
Lepage spoke directly to business leaders about veteran employment: “All too often we hear about veterans returning from overseas only to come home and be unemployed. Education, good jobs, access to quality healthcare and other services are the only way to ensure a seamless transition back into civilian life. Our troops and our veterans possess tremendous skill sets, and I constantly urge business leaders across the state to support our men and women in uniform and hire a veteran. They not only possess the skill sets but offer leadership, offer courage and offer loyalty. . . . The Maine employer support of the guard and the reserve is a great resource for businesses to learn about how they can support our men and women in uniform.”
Following LePage’s speech was U.S. Congressman Mike Michaud. Before Michaud spoke, Dean of Students Robert Dana praised both LePage and Michaud for their efforts in helping veterans.
“As you all know very well, a new generation of veterans has come home from Iraq, and many continue to serve in Afghanistan. . . . We must honor the many men and women we have lost as a result of their sacrifices for us all here in the United States of America,” Michaud said.
Michaud mentioned that he is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for the United States. He spoke of his experience visiting troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; he told the audience he has witnessed the extreme challenges and hardships they encounter while deployed.
“Some of them have served six or seven deployments overseas, and it’s just amazing the resilience that they have. I hear politicians from both sides of the aisle say we [have] to say thank you to our Veterans, until it came time to provide the funding,” Michaud said. “That’s where I think Congress has fallen short over a number of years. [Recently], when you look at taking care of our veterans, the United States has stepped up to the plate. When I first got elected, the V.A. budget was about $60 billion. Today, it’s over $140 billion.”
Michaud told the audience some of the increase was due to the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans, stating that funds used for this issue will cost around $40 billion.
“It’s a huge increase, and part of that increase is to make up for the failure of us as a country. If we’re going to send our men and women to fight for us, as a country, we have to be willing as a nation to take care of them when they come home,” Michaud said. “We’re seeing Congress and the administration doing a much better job in that regard.”
Representatives for senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe attended the luncheon as well. Sen. Snowe’s representative reminded the audience that 167 Mainers have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan and should not be forgotten.CORRECTION:
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