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Linda Edmondson proposes initiative to assist Oklahoma Veterans

17:26PM on July 01 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY – Calling access to services for Oklahoma’s service men and women and their families a critical concern, Linda Edmondson today announced she will – as Oklahoma’s next First Lady – launch an initiative to combat the problem.

Mrs. Edmondson is the wife of gubernatorial candidate and Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who is a Vietnam veteran.

She noted that thousands of Oklahoma service men and women have served in the war against terrorism. In its largest deployment in more than 50 years, 3,600 members of Oklahoma’s National Guard will be deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, returning home the following year.

“During this Fourth of July weekend, we all have the opportunity to celebrate the freedoms preserved for us by the heroes of each generation,” she said.

If I am fortunate enough to serve as First Lady, I will devote my energies to making sure we provide meaningful support for men and women in uniform by assisting their families and by preparing the way for them to return to their communities and resume their productive lives.”

Mrs. Edmondson has worked in social services since 1973. She has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma. She said she will work with state and local officials and leaders in business and non-profit sectors to implement her initiative.

“When Drew was in Vietnam, I managed the household, cared for our two small children and went to work while we attempted to keep in touch by writing letters. We understand the strain of separation and the challenges of reintegration,” Mrs. Edmondson said.

Mrs. Edmondson said effective veterans’ services are especially critical since the number of veterans is increasing due to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The state already has about 330,000 veterans – one of every 10 Oklahomans.

As First Lady, Mrs. Edmondson said she will work to make sure effective services are readily available through her “Delivering Opportunities for Oklahoma’s Returning Service men and women” or DOORS initiative.

She noted that resources available to veterans and their families from federal and state agencies can be difficult to access, leaving them without the vital assistance they may need.

“We require tremendous sacrifice of our military families, and we can do better than letting them be barred from services by an unresponsive bureaucracy,” Mrs. Edmondson said. “We must pry open those doors and allow our returning heroes to resume their lives.”

Today, studies indicate that as many as one of every three soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq suffers from health problems including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Of those, two of every three veterans do not receive appropriate medical attention. Other studies show returning veterans have a significantly higher rate of suicide than veterans from previous conflicts.

In addition to worries about their families, returning veterans often have concerns about housing, employment, financial support, counseling, education and legal services.

The DOORS initiative includes creation of a one-stop, on-line resource offering quick and easy access to information about local, state and national services available to veterans. This flexible portal will be easy to update, compatible with existing 211 systems and available to providers as well as consumers.

Mrs. Edmondson said training will be provided for veterans to serve as volunteer facilitators and mentors in veteran-led support groups. By offering this service via trained volunteers who have shared their experiences, veterans struggling with adjustment problems will have better access to support.

Related family education and support programs will be modeled after other programs that have proven successful in other parts of the country.

Mrs. Edmondson said she will encourage the formation of a Veterans Council made up of veterans, active military, auxiliary and nonprofit organizations to support veterans’ issues.

Higher education must be made more accessible for Oklahoma veterans by instituting tuition waivers and transcript credit for their years of honorable service, she said. Resource centers for veterans also are needed at colleges and universities that have high veteran populations.

Mrs. Edmondson said she will be sure to coordinate closely with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs to identify services that need to be enhanced or modified.

While the need is urgent, there are few state resources available for funding new programs, Mrs. Edmondson said. For that reason, she said the initiative at its outset would focus in three areas: promoting volunteerism, identifying areas in which services can be made more efficient and seeking grants to help fund special programs.

“Oklahomans wish each of our service men and women a safe return from war, but we must show our appreciation with more than parades and banners,” Mrs. Edmondson said. “My initiative, which will keep faith with those of whom we ask such great sacrifice, is a concrete plan to meet real needs.”

Reared on a wheat farm near Fargo, Okla., Linda Larason married Drew Edmondson in 1967. They have two children, Mary Edmondson Ross and Robert Edmondson. They also have a son-in-law, Mike Ross, daughter-in-law, Andrea Hamor Edmondson, and twin grandchildren, Catherine and Andrew Ross, who were born just over one year ago.

Information about Drew Edmondson’s campaign for governor, including Mrs. Edmondson’s ongoing “Linda on the Road” tour of Oklahoma communities, is available at www.edmondson2010.com.

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