The following is a transcript of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's radio column for the weekend of Jan. 8, 2016:
On Wednesday I held a media availability in my office to talk about some of our state’s most pressing issues. In my opening remarks, I called special attention to the work being done for our veterans.
I am pleased to recognize the efforts of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs and Director Matt Snead for helping improve the lives of our veterans in Arkansas. Until recently, veterans across this state had to travel to North Little Rock to receive assistance and access services offered by the VA. But now, four new regional offices are open and ready to serve our veterans locally.
Our Veterans Affairs Department has been working over the last several months to provide veterans with services closer to home. In addition to the four newly-opened offices, another center in Forrest City will be operational next week.
The goal of these new centers is to better serve nearly 250,000 veterans living in Arkansas. If veterans were an industry, they would be the fourth largest in Arkansas, with an economic impact $4.5 billion. They represent an important part of our state economy and a highly skilled workforce.
Most importantly, our veterans have served our country with honor and sacrifice.
And here’s what we’ve done so far:
In November, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge joined for a ribbon cutting at Fayetteville’s new veteran service office. This center will serve more than 36,000 service men and women in Northwest Arkansas.
In December, two more offices were opened in Jonesboro and Mountain Home. The office in Jonesboro will serve Northeast Arkansas—a region with nearly 21,000 veterans. The Mountain Home center, located on the Arkansas State University Mountain Home Campus, serves more than 23,000 veterans in North Central Arkansas.
This month, Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin went to Fort Smith for the opening of another regional office. This marks the fourth consecutive office opening in Arkansas over the past three months. The Fort Smith office will provide support to counties with more than 22,000 Arkansas veterans. No longer will these vets need to travel to Central Arkansas to directly access services.
Each of the regional offices are part of our long-term strategic plan, which I reviewed and approved last year. By regionalizing these offices, the veteran service officer network can operate more effectively and conveniently for ALL our service men and women.
And that’s not all. In addition to the Forrest City office opening on January 14, plans are in the works for three more centers in Monticello, Russellville and Hope. Soon, every Arkansas veteran will be able to have direct access to veteran support officers and the resources they need.
Without the sacrifice of our veterans, we would not be able to enjoy the freedom we have today. As Governor, it is important to say thank you, and God bless our men and women who have served and those who continue to serve. We are forever in your debt.