"There's hope" - Board recognizes Veterans Day 2022 in Multnomah County

November 10, 2022
As a former military spouse, Amber Locke knows firsthand what it’s like to share a life with an active duty service member. She still remembers when her partner served two combat tours in the early 2000s. At that time, she said, being a military spouse felt like the hardest thing she would face.

But most of all, she was not prepared for the transition back to the civilian world. It was during that adjustment period when she first understood just how much support veterans and their families need in navigating life after service in the military. 

(Left to right): Becky Lillie, Amber Locke, and Sheila Balbin testify before the Board of Commissioners

It was that experience that motivated her to go back to school to become a Multnomah County Veterans’ Services Officer. In her role, she helps veterans and their families navigate and understand the service-related benefits they’re entitled to receive. She also advocates for them when they have trouble filing claims.

‘This role is so much more than filling out forms,” Locke told Commissioners on Thursday, Nov. 10. “This role allows me to connect with each veteran I talk to using a trauma-informed lens to better serve them as they trust me by sharing their experiences, so that we can work together to obtain the benefits they’ve earned.”

Locke was among a group of invited guests as the Board issued a proclamation observing Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 11. The event also coincided with Operation Green Light, a national event sponsored by the National Association of Counties that honors veterans. Multnomah County is illuminating the Morrison Bridge in green light this week to signal its support. 

“We are here,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who serves as the Board liaison to the County’s Veteran Task Force, said in a message to veterans. “There’s hope. There are resources. There are services.” 

More than 40,000 veterans live in Multnomah County. The County is committed to helping veterans access their service-related benefits and improving their access to employment, housing and healthcare. 

Becky Lillie, a 17-year County employee, is the co-chair of the Veterans Employee Resource Group. The resource group aims to offer a safe place for veterans, their family members, and advocates to gather and support one another.

At age 17, Lillie joined the U.S. Navy and became a Technician Maintenance Second Class Petty Officer. In her role, she traveled throughout the world and installed electronics equipment in support of Naval and National Security Agency security missions.

But, like many others, she said she was not prepared for life after service. She said nobody told her what to do once she was out. 

The Morrison Bridge illuminated in green in honor of Operation Green Light.

“It’s so important to have those services to our service members when they get out to help us during our transitions,” Lillie said. “Veterans are really goal-driven, dedicated and reliable individuals. However, many of us have disabilities, whether they’re visible or invisible.” 

There are roughly 19.5 million veterans in the United States and more than 5 million veterans on disability. About 11% of veterans experience homelessness. Among veterans who are homeless, 50% also live with a behavioral health illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We know that Multnomah County is a microcosm of our broader veteran community and their struggles,” said Sheila Balbin, who manages the County’s Veterans’ Services Program. “Multnomah County is committed to providing the support and care that all veterans have earned.”

Commissioners recognize veterans' sacrifice 

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal noted the difficulty that many veterans face as they transition back into civilian life. She said it’s important to recognize the difficulty many veterans face finding community. 

“When we decide to send people to war, we owe it to them to support them when they come back,” she said. “That's the least that we can do.”

Noting the great number of Veterans in Multnomah County, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson underscored the importance of offering enough resources for veterans and their families. 

It’s important, Commissioner Vega Pederson said, “to make sure that we have resources available and a team that is able to connect people to all the needs that they have as they’re finding a new place or readjusting to life outside of the military.”

Commissioner Lori Stegmann, whose life was touched by the Korean War, urged everyone to reflect on the role veterans play in our daily lives.

“If you see a veteran today, shake their hand and tell them thank you, and express that debt of gratitude,” Commissioner Stegmann said, “because they’re not always going to be here, and they hold great stories of sacrifice, themselves.”