(Courtesy South Dakota Army National Guard)

During Governor Dennis Daugaard's State of the State Address, an initiative trumpeted by the Administration was aimed toward the Veterans of South Dakota.  Many residents of the state feel very strongly about the respect that is given to those who have served in the Armed Forces.  What follows is an open letter from the Governor to describe a program he calls "Operation Reach all Veterans."

The Capitol is a very busy place this time of year. Not only are legislators and lobbyists in town, but also interested citizens from all across the state – people who want to know more about the process or have a say in what’s being done in the Legislature. It’s like the indoor state fair.

If you come to visit the state Capitol Building, you’ll probably notice the table in the hall across from my office door. This table is staffed by people who work for the state Department of Veterans Affairs and they will be at the Capitol Building throughout the legislative session as one effort to find veterans who may not be aware of the benefits they’ve earned.

On the first day of the 2014 Legislative Session I signed a proclamation declaring Operation Reach All Veterans Day in South Dakota. This year, Secretary Larry Zimmerman and the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs are reaching out to meet every veteran in South Dakota and to offer assistance with federal, state and local benefits. Along with staffing the table in the Capitol Building, the Department plans to host more than 130 open houses, including at least one in every county, reaching out to veterans. Upcoming events will be posted at vetaffairs.sd.gov under the “public affairs” tab.

Recently, a veteran visiting the Capitol Building stopped at the Operation Reach All Veterans table. This veteran was suffering from injuries that occurred after serving, and the injuries were causing this individual a great deal of hardship. Because this person stopped at the table, the Department staff member determined the veteran was eligible to receive complete medical treatment from the VA.

Had this person not stopped at the booth, this veteran may never have known about the earned benefits.

There are 75,000 veterans living in South Dakota, ranging in age from World War II era veterans, to those who are currently serving. I’m willing to bet that many of them – like the veteran who happened to be at the Capitol recently – aren’t aware of all of the benefits they’re eligible to receive.

I know there is no way to fully repay our veterans for all they have sacrificed to protect our freedom. Still, we should do everything we can to thank and provide for them. Operation Reach All Veterans is one step toward repaying just a small part of the debt we owe.