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Howard: ‘Veterans Exemplify Values of Honor, Courage, Commitment’

Tewksbury rep reflects on meeting new Veterans Secretary Jon Santiago, meaning of the day

By Rep. Vanna Howard

I recently had the honor of hosting Veterans Secretary Jon Santiago, of the Executive Office of Veterans in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at a roundtable held at Middlesex Community College. We discussed a multitude of issues — wraparound services, health care access, mental health, overdoses, suicide, substance abuse, housing, and childcare. Many people from the veteran’s community, their families, and community members attended.

Secretary Santiago was appointed in February of this year by Governor Maura Healey and Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll and assumed his position on March 1, 2023, serving as Massachusetts’ first-ever Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services. He is a major in the U.S. Army Reserve and an emergency medicine physician at Boston Medical Center. From 2019 to this year, he served as State Representative for the 9th Suffolk district, and I had the pleasure of serving with him.

The Veteran’s Secretariat was established on March 1, 2023, the date Representative Santiago was sworn in as Veterans’ Services Secretary. Representative Santiago has dedicated his life to serving his country – volunteering for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, staffing his emergency room throughout the COVID pandemic, being deployed overseas with the U.S. Army Reserve, and advocating at the State House for increased access to housing, public transportation, and substance abuse disorder treatment. As Governor Healey has stated, “His public health expertise and military service make him uniquely qualified to serve as Massachusetts’ first-ever Secretary of Veterans’ Services. I’m confident that he will be the leader our veterans need and deserve and will always stand up for their health, safety, and wellbeing.”

Our veterans commonly experience long separations from their families, miss special occasions like births or birthdays, endure extreme and sub-zero temperatures, and lose limbs and, far too often, their lives. Their families serve and sacrifice as well. Military spouses endure frequent career interruptions and bear a disproportionate share of parental responsibilities. Their children often must deal with home and school changes, separation from friends, and, hardest of all, the uncertainty of whether mom or dad will come home.

Veterans need each other, but, more importantly, our country needs our veterans. In Secretary Santiago’s words, “Our veterans deserve the absolute highest quality of care, but they are far too often underserved. The Healey-Driscoll Administration is committed to meeting the complex needs of those who have bravely served our country, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue my own service as Secretary of Veterans’ Services.”

As a spouse of a veteran who served in the United States Air Force, this matter is also personal to me. We must ensure that our veteran’s needs are being met, in meaningful and timely ways. They have earned, and deserve, no less. This is not an option; it is an imperative. My husband Greg, when he completed his service, was able to use his GI bill money to attend college and earn his undergraduate degree which afforded him to go to law school. He is one of the fortunate veterans who didn’t require these services. We cannot say the same for many of our veterans and their families. I was grateful that the Secretary was able to attend our roundtable and feel that he genuinely listened to, and will act on, the concerns expressed.

My father also served, he was a police officer, sworn to protect and serve our community, and he was killed by the Khmer Rouge because of his position.

In times of peace and in times of war, our veterans have exemplified the values of honor, courage, and commitment. They have displayed unwavering dedication to their fellow servicemembers and their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Their love for our country is undeniable. But Veterans Day is not just a day of celebration and remembrance. It is a day of action, for all of us. These men and women who have put their lives on the line for the defense of our Nation come from all walks of life and creeds, liberals and conservatives, religious and non-religious, and all ethnicities, genders, sexual identities, religious beliefs, and political alignments. In truth, they represent and reflect every aspect of our great Commonwealth and Nation.

On this Veterans Day, let us take heart, and take the time to honor those who are still with us, and their families, and those whose loss we still mourn. We salute you and wish you peace and health on this day, and on every day.

Vanna Howard
MA State Representative
17th Middlesex District
Lowell and Tewksbury

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