On Memorial Day, we will commemorate those who have sacrificed their lives for our great country. Californians will march in parades, families will gather at cemeteries, and government officials and lay leaders alike will join together in prayer for the families of those who have fallen, sharing words of gratitude for our armed service members, veterans, and military families.
Memorial Day and Veterans Day are rightly two days in which we honor the memory of those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, and where we show great respect to our active service members and veterans. But what about the other 363 days of the year?
Here in California, we are proud to call ourselves home to nearly two million veterans — more than any other state in the country. These heroes have provided a great service to our nation, and it’s our responsibility to meet their needs when they come home. We cannot thank them merely with words and parades — we must also thank them in meaningful actions and smart policies. And that begins with the fundamentals — medical care, a good-paying job, education, and housing — for both veterans and their families.
We must not forget the invisible wounds of war. We owe it to our veterans to prioritize research, prevention, and treatment efforts related to post-traumatic stress, depression, substance abuse, and suicide, while also removing the stigma of “weakness” and embarrassment that comes with admitting you have a problem and need help. This should include evidence-based research into all available medicines, like medical marijuana, something the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has not fully allowed.
Veterans can endure physical wounds and long-term health issues. We must focus on researching and treating these conditions, ensuring that our veterans receive proper medical treatment for the wounds they suffered in service of country. Among the most common are limb amputations and brain injuries suffered due to improvised explosive device blasts. Exposure to burn pits, in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, appear to have caused long-term health issues.
But it is also essential to remember that whether or not veterans suffer from mental health or physical injuries, California must promote the economic well-being of all veterans. As Governor, I plan to work with government agencies and the private sector to help develop transition and hiring programs for veterans and their families. For example, California has one of the most efficient jobs programs in the nation, Work for Warriors, which places thousands of veterans, transitioning service members, spouses and reservists in high-quality jobs annually. Unfortunately, while effective, California is no small state, and inadequate funding levels have meant that we are able to meet only a fraction of the demand the program receives. I also support extending the private-sector veterans hiring preference so that employers can offer it to veterans of all generations, not just those from the Vietnam era. And I support better spousal licensing and credentialing recognition in order to ensure that transitioning military families have an economically viable future in California.
Education for veterans and their families is also an integral part of a successful transition. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has provided many opportunities to veterans across the country and in California but unfortunately, predatory for-profit colleges have exploited their GI Bill benefits. I will crack down on these bad actors.
Unconscionably, too many of our veterans are homeless. As Governor, I will focus attention on ending veteran homelessness and work to ensure these veterans have access to adequate housing. And I’ll support Veterans Treatment and Homeless Courts, which help deliver stability by providing veterans treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues rather than incarcerating them, while also giving them an opportunity to resolve their legal issues.
I will also provide increased funding and support for our CalVet Homes. These long-term care facilities provide valuable services and communities for aging, disabled, and homeless veterans throughout the state. Regrettably, many CalVet Homes are currently overcrowded and underfunded. We must change this reality.
My commitment to honoring California’s veterans also extends to the responsibility I would have as Governor to command the California National Guard. The National Guard stands ready to serve our great state and nation, and I pledge to be a responsible steward of the power vested in this office. When we have called, they have answered. They have my commitment to deploy the National Guard only for appropriate reasons, such as helping to tackle climate change by responding to extreme weather events, like the thousands of fires we have each year right here in California. The California National Guard should not be used as a political tool of President Trump’s draconian immigration policies — a request he recently made of California without any demand from his own Department of Homeland Security or Department of Defense. Even the president of the National Border Patrol Council labeled the move a “colossal waste of resources.”
I will always support policies that will help foster a culture of inclusion and respect in the National Guard, which will, in turn, improve its readiness to address real threats. Promoting such a culture includes supporting state litigation against Donald Trump’s transgender military ban and being an advocate for women and all victims in the military by supporting the federal Military Justice Improvement Act, which would help prevent sexual assault by giving prosecutors the decision to bring charges and by reducing the fear that survivors often feel in their decisions to report the crime under the current system.
Our nation’s selfless veterans are an inspiration to me and our country. We are fortunate that so many veterans live in California. They have served us all so well, and now it is incumbent upon all of us to serve them, not just on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but every single day that we are lucky enough to call them fellow Californians. It would be my honor to serve them as Governor.