Honor, concern for vets at Veterans Day program
by Kenny Farmer
PELL CITY — The city honored the nation’s veterans with a Veterans Day program in the St. Clair County Courthouse Monday. While guests and speakers expressed their thanks for the service of the military, they also talked about the concern for the well-being of those who have returned home from combat.

“As veterans, all of you gave some, and some of them gave all,” said St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon, who served as a Marine in the Vietnam War. “Many times we take Memorial Day and we make it so big about the group that gave all, and that’s important, but all of you gave some and that ‘some’ may have been the biggest chunk of your heart. That ‘some’ you gave may be the pain that you suffer for the rest of your life.”

To take care of our returning soldiers is society’s job, Batemon said.

“We’ve got to commit money and resources to make these things better,” he said. “We’re going to step up and see if there’s some things we can do.”

Mike Smith, post commander of Pell City’s Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 4758, agrees that veterans need help and support.

“Things have changed, rules of the VA have changed and benefits have changed,” Smith said. “There are things out there for veterans that veterans need to be getting. We want them to know that there are benefits out there that they should be receiving. You (veterans) deserve everything this country can provide for you for what you did for us.”

Batemon said that when veterans come home, the public begins to realize the sacrifices they all make.

“There are no unwounded soldiers,” he said. “Everyone of you was wounded in war.”

Batemon talked about how the new Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home will help more than 250 veterans, but said, “We cannot forget about the other 7,000 people that make up the county’s veterans and family members of those veterans.

“Many of the pains that veterans have gone through are matched or even exceeded by the families that they left at home,” he said. “So I have, over the years, just got to be more and more appreciative of the families of veterans and people in active duty.”

Batemon suggests better training for those returning from combat in order to lower the 23 percent unemployment rate among veterans. He said he is also concerned about the growing number of soldiers who currently live in our county jail.

“We still need to address whatever reasons that land former military in jail,” he said. “It could be psychological, health related or whatever. We should have sympathy for those veterans.

“We could reduce the jail population, which is expensive to all of you, by the way,” Batemon said. “It costs us $50,000 per year per prisoner. If we could divert 10 people that are veterans out of that jail, it would save half a million dollars.

“Our (St. Clair County) judges have been fantastic. They’re leading the way to start a veterans court. Roughly 10 percent of the people in our jail have been in the military.”

Batemon said it is not a responsibility of the county to take care of veterans, rather a duty of the state and federal government.

“However, we’ll be lifting our veterans up in every way we can,” he said.

Batemon said soldiers don’t fight because they are liberal or conservative or because they were for President Obama or presidential nominee Romney.

“That’s not what it’s about,” he said. “I think all the veterans in this room know what I’m talking about. The battle is not about that. The battle is for your country, and the battle is for the guy standing next to you.”

Smith echoed Batemon’s sentiments.

“As a veteran, we didn’t do it for the glory. We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do. We felt it was our duty,” said Smith.

Contact Kenny Farmer at kfarmer@dailyhome.com.

© 2012