Every year on Nov. 11, Americans honor our nation’s veterans. Veterans Day is an opportunity for all of us to show our appreciation for all those who have served in our armed forces, past and present, and to thank the future veterans who still are serving.
Virginia is home to more than 713,000 veterans — 1 in every 12 Virginians. Of these, more than 109,000 are women, the highest percentage in the U.S.
Our veterans continue to serve our commonwealth every day. They are first responders, health care workers, teachers and students. They build everything from ships to computer networks. They are part of our largest businesses and our newest startups.
I am proud that in my past four years as governor, the commonwealth has worked hard to recognize and show appreciation to those who served our country — and we have taken important steps forward in ensuring that our veterans have the services and support they need, and have earned.
For example, the Virginia Values Veterans program, known as the V3 program, helps veterans find jobs in the civilian workforce through a unique partnership. More than 2,700 private employers, public institutions, local and state agencies, and educational institutions have committed to recruiting, hiring and retaining veteran employees.
When I became governor, I set a goal of 35,000 veterans hired through the V3 program during my term. The program not only met that goal, it exceeded it: To date, V3 partners have hired 85,000 Virginia veterans, including 50,000 during my administration. Making sure we keep our highly skilled veterans employed in the commonwealth when they leave active duty is important to all of us, as they greatly strengthen our state economy.
With the largest percentage of women veterans per population of any state, Virginia has led the way in recognizing that they face unique challenges and opportunities. The commonwealth created the Virginia Women Veterans Program and stepped up the recognition of the service and achievement of our women veterans by declaring the third week of March each year as Virginia Women Veterans Week.
We also are working to fight the epidemic of suicide among veterans. Sadly, on average, 17 veterans take their own lives across the United States each day.
Virginia was one of the first states to become part of the Governors’ Challenge to Prevent Veteran Suicide among Service Members, Veterans and their Families, which now is in more than 35 states. This effort brings together government agencies at all levels and nonprofit organizations to make sure that veterans who are struggling with mental and behavioral issues get connected with the help they need.
During my term, we have expanded the number of state veteran services offices to 34, to help Virginia’s veterans and their families take advantage of the medical, educational, financial and other benefits they have earned. While the pandemic forced many physical offices to temporarily close, Virginia Department of Veterans Services staff continued to effectively serve thousands by phone, email and online.
As a physician, I am keenly aware that as the veteran population ages, the need for long-term care increases. Virginia provides this at our state veterans’ homes in Richmond and Roanoke, and two new care centers will open in 2022 in Fauquier County and Virginia Beach.
Veterans also deserve a dignified and beautiful final resting place, which Virginia provides at our state veteran cemeteries in Amelia, Dublin and Suffolk. And Virginia is home to a number of museums and memorials dedicated to honoring service members — from the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, to the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico and many more.
I, myself, am proud to have served in the United States Army. And I am proud of the work my administration has done to support and advocate for veterans and their families. While my time as governor will end, my gratitude for veterans and their service will continue.
Again, I say thank you to veterans and to their families and partners, because supporting a member of the military is its own form of service. Virginia is grateful. I hope we all will keep the service and sacrifice of veterans in mind not just today but every day.
Ralph Northam is governor of Virginia. Contact him at: (804) 786-2211