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VA secretary praises National Guard in Las Vegas speech

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough offered high praise to members of the National Guard on Sunday during a speech in Las Vegas, saying its service in Afghanistan — and on the domestic front combating the COVID-19 pandemic — has been heroic.

“My message to the guard today can be summarized in the following two words: thank you,” McDonough said at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center during the 143rd conference of the National Guard Association of the United States.

McDonough spoke to hundreds of members of the National Guard from Nevada and across the country about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ work to improve services for veterans. He told those present that all veterans’ service in Afghanistan is cherished. At one point during his remarks, he asked dozens of guard members who served in Afghanistan to stand up, prompting a lengthy applause as the nation winds down its withdrawal from the war-torn nation.

“There is no way I can even imagine, even begin to imagine, how you feel right now,” McDonough said to those who served. “In fact I think there is no way anyone who didn’t serve in Afghanistan, who didn’t fight in Afghanistan, who didn’t believe in Afghanistan, could fully understand how you feel right now. No one can unless they have walked as you have among the Afghan people.”

McDonough said the nation is “deeply, deeply grateful” for all those who served in Afghanistan.

“With courage and unwavering commitment, you did your duty again and again and again,” he said.

Evictions, health care

McDonough also said the VA is encouraging veterans facing eviction to contact their local office. Last week the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing the temporary ban of evictions put in place in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have support and programming,” McDonough said. “We can help you find additional support if you find yourself in need of housing or you are confronting a troubling situation regarding your rent and paying your mortgage.”

McDonough encouraged Las Vegas Valley veterans in a housing crisis to contact the VA’s local Community Resource and Referral Center at 702-791-9077 during normal business hours. On weekends and evenings, they can call 702-706-6089.

This weekend’s guard conference offered a chance for members to network and learn about new services, technologies and resources available to them.

Col. Jerome Guerrero, president for the Nevada National Guard Association, said the association is advocating for modernization of equipment and technology for members, as well as improving access to health care benefits.

“All of these men and women have civilian jobs, and not all of them have health care,” Guerrero said. “One of the statistics out there is about 15 percent of the men and women in the National Guard don’t have full-time health care coverage. One of the things we are trying to push is health care for all.”

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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