The grand opening of the Arkansas State Veterans Home in North Little Rock on Friday brought an added layer of significance to this Veterans Day. Hundreds of veterans, along with elected officials such as Governor Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, participated in a ceremony to mark the opening of the $24 million, 31-acre veterans’ home site.
Jacksonville VFW commander Michael Richie is impressed by the new facilities, “Oh man, they’re way, much, much better than the one we did have here,”
But he’s always been pretty satisfied with veterans care in Arkansas.
“I’ve had no problems getting my claim pushed through. I’m 100 percent disabled, it’s service connected. It just went real smooth for me. I’ve heard stories from others but me personally I’ve had no complaints with the system,” said Richie.
The new veterans home, the first in the state constructed specifically to be a veterans home, replaces a central Little Rock campus that was taken out of use in 2012 due to repair costs and building conditions.
Governor Asa Hutchinson spoke to those assembled. He praised the commitment and importance of the military in our nation. The Republican governor quoted former President Ronald Reagan.
“He once said, ‘I don’t have to tell you how fragile this precious gift of freedom is. Everytime we hear, watch, or read the news we are reminded that liberty is a rare commodity in this world.’ That was said while he was president in the 1980s. As you watch the news today with challenges across the glove we can say that liberty remains at stake,” said Hutchinson. “Today we honor our veterans.”
The governor also injected a bit of politics, into his remarks. Without mentioning a specific instance, Hutchinson took on controversy about athletes kneeling during the national anthem.
“We honor our veterans by honoring the flag of the United States of America, by standing at attention when we sing the national anthem,” he said. “We have to be patient and understanding but we must teach the next generation that the flag is about freedom but is also representing and precious to veterans.”
Hutchinson continued to considerable applause, “That willing to sacrifice needs to be respected.”
Several professional athletes across the country have taken a knee during the national anthem in recent months. Earlier this month six Arkansas Razorback basketball players took a knee at an exhibition game before the start of the regular season. The women’s team members have since determined to stand for the anthem while continuing to point out a lack of police accountability in different spheres of speech.
Some Republican state lawmakers have threatened to cut funding to the University of Arkansas because the six student-athletes chose to exercise their First Amendment rights in a manner contrary to the legislators’ personal beliefs.
Speaking to KUAR after the ceremony, Sen. Cotton weighed in on the issue.
“I stand for the anthem and I salute the flag. I encourage every American to do that. I understand that people have disagreements with this or that politician and this or that government. I think there’s ways you can express those disagreements without causing so much controversy or offending our fellow citizens,” said Cotton.
VFW commander Richie would like to curtail the student-athletes rights. He didn’t hold much respect for the SEC caliber athletes either.
“Those people have too much time on their hands. They probably haven’t done anything in their life but complain. You can’t judge anyone if you haven’t walked in their shoes. As far as disgracing our flag, if you’re not happy where you’re at there are exit points out of this country. You can leave. To disgrace our flag like some do is unacceptable and there should be a law against it,” said Richie.
250,000 veterans call Arkansas home. The new site off of Fort Roots has plenty of unused parcels of land around it with future expansion in mind. It consists of eight, 12-resident houses and a community building.