Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1649 recognize those who have served
Ltc. Pablo Paredes returned home after serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam to a hostile environment.
“The community just didn’t want us around,” he told the News-Press.
The Vietnam War shocked civilians who watched nightly broadcasts, and soldiers didn’t return from the conflict with a clear victory.
But Ltc. Paredes sees a “big difference” in the past 10-15 years — a shift that perhaps is most visible during events like the Veterans Day program hosted by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1649.
During Thursday’s ceremony, Lt. John Blankenship, founding director of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, bellowed the name of recent wars and asked veterans to stand. “Vietnam War!”
Men and women rose from their seats, proud as the crowd clapped and attendees turned to look at all the Vietnam veterans.
Ltc. Travis Buehner, who is actively serving in the Army, lives by a Vietnam veteran. Three years ago, on Veterans Day, the neighbor flew his flag upside down — a sign of distress.
Ltc. Buehner saw the flag and knocked on his neighbor’s door. The neighbor carried grief from returning from Vietnam, and the two talked for a while.
Thursday, the neighbor was flying his flag conventionally.
“It’s so important to make sure we reiterate how thankful we are for what they did. And they may not have felt so at the time, but being proud of their service and answering the call to serve their country,” Ltc. Buehner said.
Lt. Blankenship works to ensure veterans are honored in the community, whether it be by hosting a gala or presenting a veteran’s loved ones with a flag.
“We just want people to feel proud to have served,” he said.
A Census Bureau report titled “Those Who Served” reveals a declining veteran population. Around 7% of U.S. adults were veterans, according to the report’s 2018 survey. In 1980, 18% of adults had served.
“While we often thank our vets for their service, there are a lot of veterans that still need our support,” Ltc. Buehner said in the keynote address. “And I think we need to do better, with not just words, but actions.”
Ltc. Paredes serves as the quartermaster of VFW Post 1649 and has previously held the role of commander. He connects veterans with services they need, but he says many join the post for friendship.
“They want comradery, a sense of belonging. They’re looking to help other veterans. In the VFW, that’s exactly what we do,” he said. “We help veterans in need, whether they’re students or community veterans.”
He said he is aware of a few homeless veterans in Santa Barbara, but the problem is worse in Los Angeles, where he helped find shelter for 800 homeless veterans.
The number of homeless veterans in the United States has declined since 2010, with the steepest decline between 2010 and 2016. In 2020, the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress estimated the number of homeless veterans at 37,252 — half of 2010’s count.
Black veterans are overrepresented in the homeless veteran population, according to the report. They allot for one third of homeless veterans but just 12% of all U.S. veterans.
In 2020, 31% of the homeless veteran population lived in California.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, who served in the Marine Corps, spoke during the program about Congress’s actions to support veterans.
“I am happy to report that the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is doing more than just simply saying thank you, and has passed 27 bills this Congress to support our nation’s veterans, and ensure they have access to the care and benefits they are in. And most of these bills have been bipartisan,” he said.
He said this year’s House-passed appropriations bill garnered bipartisan support for improving medical care for veterans, including transportation to and from medical appointments.
The bill addresses infamously poor-performing Veterans Affairs phone systems that connect veterans to outpatient care.
“I know it’s shocking that these services haven’t worked and haven’t been existent today,” Rep. Carbajal said.
Almost a quarter of veterans have a service-connected disability, according to the Census Bureau report.
The congressman also reported advancements in the HUD-VASH program, which supports housing for homeless veterans.
“There is a reason why the United States has the strongest military in the world. It’s because we not only make investments in our capabilities, but in our people,” Rep. Carbajal said.
Ltc. Buehner will retire in December and plans to stay connected to the VFW and the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.
“This is a big production,” he said, motioning to the Veterans Day ceremony on the lawn of the Santa Barbara Cemetery. “It costs a lot of money, and it takes a lot of effort. But they do it because they realize how important it is for our community.”