Wednesday evening, January 6, members and supporters of Sierra County’s newly organized Veterans Coalition gathered for coordination session at T-or-C’s Olive Tree Integrated Community Center. The evening’s gathering focused on developing a formal mission statement, establishing contact points and internet connections for the group, as well as short list of other initial housekeeping matters.
State Senator Crystal Diamond and state representative Rebecca Dow were both on hand for the January 6 session, which was further slated to include an online discussion with Veterans Service Officer George Vargas.
At the meeting’s outset, Senator Diamond presented coalition participants with a preliminary draft of new legislation she will soon be introducing in support of New Mexico’s veterans. Diamond said the initiative would seek to secure tax exemptions for New Mexico veterans that are already in place in other states.
Representative Dow also encouraged coalition members by noting a recent discussion with Department of Veterans Services Cabinet Secretary-Designate Sonya L. Smith found her to be fully in support of many suggested improvements. According to representative Dow, Smith said she would soon be actively pursuing efforts to shore up presently recognized gaps in veterans services and to better coordinate with other services that are already available in communities like Sierra County.
•Since early October 2020, local veterans, community leaders and concerned citizens have been working to organize this new veterans coalition, which began with hopes of securing the designation of a new Veterans Service Officer position for Sierra County, and to otherwise provide better access and support for area veterans.
Before the close of 2020, participants in the coalition effort managed to coordinate four productive sessions, and established a number of initial priorities. Primary among these goals was the formal selection of a five member board to move forward with further efforts in an official manner.
During the group’s December 7 session, Lee Wedgwood was selected to serve as the coalition’s inaugural chairman, Gretchen Kruger was selected to serve as assistant chairperson, while Sean Johnson, Orlando Resendez and Mark Bartoloni were chosen to fill the remaining three member posts. This session further recognized that Truth or Consequences (T-or-C) City Commissioner/LTC (Ret.) Randall Aragon, and Steve Buckley (Command Sergeant Major, Ret.) would also be serving as senior advisors for the new organization.
Additional priorities established for the coalition included development of an official web page, the formulation of a list of veterans’ services available in Sierra County, as well as efforts to encourage local health care providers to apply for “Missions Act” benefits and the potential of establishing an endowment fund for veterans 65 years of age and older.