What is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s legacy after two terms as governor? Political pundits may disagree about the answer to that question. California’s veterans do not. We are united in our respect for Gov. Schwarzenegger‘s unbroken record of commitment to the men and women of America’s Armed Services and California’s veterans. Throughout his more than seven years in office, he has gone beyond the call of duty on behalf of veterans of all ages and all wars.
“For more than 200 years, our freedoms have been paid for in blood and sacrifice by our men and women in uniform,” Gov. Schwarzenegger said last month. “America is the Land of the Free, only because it is the Home of the Brave . . . we will continue to do everything in our power to make sure all our veterans, young and old, are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Those are inspiring words but Governor Schwarzenegger honors veterans not only with his words but his deeds. More than any governor in memory, he has dedicated himself to ensuring that California never forgets the debt of gratitude we owe all who go in harm’s way in defense of liberty – opening homes for our elderly veterans, helping young women and men transition successfully to civilian life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a wide array of services to veterans of all generations.
Gov. Schwarzenegger traveled to Iraq during the height of the war there and returned with a renewed determination to improve existing services for veterans and to develop new programs to meet the new realities of this age of a seemingly never-ending war with terror.
Four years ago, the governor launched a series of more than 40 “Honor a Hero, Hire a Vet” job fairs throughout the state. Over the years, hundreds of employers have linked up with more than 15,000 veterans at these fairs.
This year, building on the success of that program, Gov. Schwarzenegger established Operation Welcome Home, the only program of its kind in the nation. Using a wide variety of services, this $20 million outreach has already provided a very hearty and helpful welcome home to more than 35,000 veterans, connecting them with job placement and training, educational assistance and medical benefits services. The Operation Welcome Home staff includes 300 veterans who reach out to men and women who are now leaving the service after tours in combat zones.
In the face of opposition among some lawmakers, Gov. Schwarzenegger managed to win $5 million in additional funding for County Veterans Service Offices, the ground level force that day in and day out succeeds in ensuring that veterans obtain their well-deserved benefits and establish a fund for veterans service organizations to assist CVSOs.
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s dedication to veterans’ causes goes far beyond these initiatives on behalf of our newest heroes.
• As a sign of his commitment to a generation that served so bravely and nobly in Vietnam, the governor signed legislation establishing an annual “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” on March 30. “It is never too late,” he said, “to recognize the selfless actions of these courageous men and women who answered duty’s call and served our nation.”
• During his administration, California has opened three homes for older veterans and started work on two new homes. Builders of those homes have agreed to set a goal of 10 percent participation by companies operated by disabled veterans.
• Gov. Schwarzenegger has gone the extra mile in honoring the bravest among us. He signed “Stolen Valor” legislation making it a crime to falsely claim to be a decorated war veteran, and he urged our real heroes to proudly wear their military medals on Veterans Day. “When we see our veterans wearing their medals at parades and ceremonies on Veterans Day we will be reminded of the courage and sacrifice they all made to serve and protect us,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger.
• He also signed legislation to offer treatment instead of prison for our servicemen and women whose wounds can’t be seen, such as Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
• Veterans’ legislation signed by the governor extends educational assistance to all California National Guard members – those who protect us in disasters at home as well as those who go overseas to protect our freedoms.
Gov. Schwarzenegger’s legacy of commitment to California veterans is remarkable and his inspiration is clear. In his own words: “Our veterans have answered duty’s call and defended our nation in every corner of the world. Forsaking the comforts of home, they have risked their lives to protect the liberties we enjoy. Their willingness to serve and the sacrifices that they have made are inspirational, and I extend my deepest gratitude for their invaluable service. We will be forever in their debt.”
It is hoped that our new governor and the Legislature will continue Operation Welcome Home and the enhanced veterans outreach programs started by Gov. Schwarzenegger while our country remains at war and California’s military and veterans are still in need of federal and state benefits they have earned by virtue of their service to our country and our state.