New Mexico Secretary of Veterans' Services John Garcia, an Army veteran who served in Viet Nam himself, says he doesn't want across the board budget cuts to state agencies "laid on the back of my veterans."
We filmed this video with the Secretary on a recent "Boss Lift" trip to the nation's capitol, which was sponsored by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
Veterans "have served the country to defend the free-enterprise system," Garcia said.
He believes cutting back on outreach to homeless vets and reducing veteran business development is a disservice to the more than 200,000 veterans who live in the state.
Garcia told us that when he took over the department, which was elevated to a cabinet level post in February, 2004, and has 17 field offices, its budget was less than $2 million dollars. After administrative expenses, including salaries for 20 accredited and certified veteran service officer, there was only $200,000 left for veterans, or $1 per vet. That budget as quadrupled, but still only provides $4 per veteran.
"With the recent war in Iraq and Afghanistan I've got an influx of new veterans - a new generation of veterans - and it's tough to find them," Garcia said. "Veterans just don't walk into our office and say 'I want my benefits.' We've got to find them. I don't want them to wait thirty years, like I did and many Viet Nam Vets did. We have to be very proactive and do our outreach of services."
Garcia says after meeting with Governor Bill Richardson, shortly after the special session, that both men are disappointed that the agency was marked for cuts similar to other agencies.
"It' difficult when you're talking about a budget cut and my veterans are on the firing line between the legislative body and the executive," Garcia said.
Garcia says after all veterans "give us the freedoms we enjoy!
Statewide Veterans Day celebrations planned
A host of ceremonies are planned across New Mexico today.
A parade at Bullhead Memorial Park gets underway at 9:30 in Albuquerque. It will travel down San Pedro, up Gibson and end at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial. Ceremonies there begin at 11.
Another event is planned at the Veterans Memorial Park in Santa Fe on Pinetree Road. A parade in the capital city gets underway, at Bishops Lodge at 10am.
Keep in mind, City, County, State and Federal offices are closed for the holiday. So are most courts, banks and the post office.
On Veterans Day 2009 we've decided to add the New Mexico Veterans websiteto our blog roll. Please check out Floyd Vasquez' posts regularly to see what's happening, for veterans across the state, and to see how you can volunteer to help or participate in important events benefiting our state's honored veterans.
The chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico Javier Gonzales has issued a written statement honoring veterans.
New Mexicans have a proud history of serving their country as members of the United States’ Armed Forces. The Democratic Party of New Mexico remembers and honors all New Mexicans who have served, are serving or have paid the ultimate price to our great Nation.
To read the rest of Gonzales' comments read his blog post at the state party's blog here.