The Union County Chamber of Commerce wants to make sure there are “Welcome” signs hanging out in the County for all of our veterans and current military members. This is being accomplished through a new committee; The Veteran and Military Service Committee (VAM). County Commissioner Jack Howard was impressed with a County Program he was introduced to while at a meeting downstate. The business potential of a County ID Card for Veterans and our Armed Forces to receive specific discounts and incentives from our local firms is impressive. The VAM program in Union County will offer ID Cards to Veterans, and to all men and women who are currently serving in our Armed Forces. The committee will be Co-Chaired by Commissioner Jack Howard and Jack Johnson of Cove.
To his surprise, Commission Howard, found very few Chambers of Commerce around the country that are focusing on veterans and military personnel in this way. Jack Johnson calls the creation of the VAM committee "a place where the County will have a win/win/win program. It will be a win for the veterans and the armed forces personnel; a win for businesses and retailers, and a win for all of Union County.”
Commissioner Howard agrees. One of the immediate goals of the new VAM will be to allow veterans and those currently serving in the military to receive discounts from Union County businesses. While this is a potential benefit to local veterans and service members, the program has the potential to bring a broader economic benefit to area businesses. "We can literally tell present and past military personnel who are passing through our area that we know and respect their service and want them to stop in. Whether they decide to stop and shop or to eventually move to Union County, we want them all to feel at home." The VAM program will be healthy influence to the economy of Union County.
Conversations with Byron Whipple, the local Veteran’s Service officer led to the discovery of the existence of the unlimited passport transit services for veterans in Union County. The larger idea began to take flight from there, said Commissioner Howard. Commissioner Howard first met Jack Johnson last summer during the ESGR Boss Lift which Johnson has coordinated for more than a decade. “To make the VAM successful” I immediately thought of Jack Johnson”, Howard said.
Jack Johnson recalls how public perception of the military and veterans has changed since the Vietnam War. Under the draft law which ended in 1973, men were required to serve in the military. It was a time when there was serious conflicts regarding our country’s commitment to South Vietnam. With the rescission of the draft law, that has all changed. Today, men and women join the military because they wish to serve their country. They are all volunteers. For their service, veterans of all wars and our current military personnel are now highly regarded as members of our community. Estimates place Union County's military population and veterans at a little under 10% of the total county population.
Work is now being concentrated on the committee structure, the specific details of discounts, and to establish criteria that allows for the promotion of eligible businesses who participate in the program. Commissioner Howard says there is plenty of room on the committee for growth and innovation. For example, there is always the potential for connections to be made between employers and veterans seeking job training or actual employment. Commissioner Howard said that VAM program will recognize the great work that other groups are doing for our veterans. The Veterans have gained so much from the efforts of these groups. The VAM program will add support that can only come from local businesses and volunteers. Johnson added that the VAM program is a way to provide a very low, or no-cost program that will provide an enormous amount of good in a short period of time. There will be no costs to the state or federal government for the program.
The initial efforts of the VAM Committee will be to identify the business and retailers who wish to support the program. It is planned that the VAM program will produce freeway signage to identify the local retailers and firms, and the discounts that they wish offer veterans and members of the Armed Forces. Once that occurs, applications for the Veteran and Military Service cards will be made available at a number of sights in the County. Johnson pointed out that start up, management, and operations will come at no cost to the federal or state programs.
For the time being, VAM will develop a network of local businesses who wish to participate in granting special offers and rewards to veterans and present military members. “After that,” Howard wonders, “who can say? The Chamber’s VAM committee is dedicated with remembering what our military personnel have done for our County, and connecting that with what our County and businesses wish to do for them.