By Debbie Gregory.
The California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) estimates that there are 1,749,137 Veterans in the state of California. The department estimates that approximately 9.3% of these Veterans are black*. That means there are roughly 163,480 black Veterans living in California. This community of Veterans is sizeable enough to have its own needs, specific concerns, and its own voice.
On Monday, February 24th, more than 300 people participated in the California’s ever Black Veterans Summit at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. The event was co-hosted by CalVet and the Black Chamber of Commerce of Orange County. The summit was established to ensure that black Veterans were informed about the multitude of benefits they have earned through their military service.
The event was headlined by Will Gunn and Peter Gravett, two black Veterans who have established themselves in their military careers and in their careers in the Veteran community.
Peter Gravett started his military career as an enlisted soldier. He served for over 40 years, retiring at the rank of Major General from the California National Guard. In 1999, he became the first African American division commander in the history of the U.S. National Guard. General Gravett also served 20 years in the LAPD, earning the department’s highest award, the Medal of Valor. Gravett is currently the Secretary of the California Department of Veteran Affairs, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown.
Will Gunn is a retired Air Force Colonel from the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. As part of his military career, Gunn served as Chief Defense Counsel in the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions, where he led defense council for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Currently, Gunn serves as General Counsel for the entire VA, where he oversees approximately 450 attorneys.
Gravett was inspired by the attendance and the information being provided through discussions between panellists and Veterans regarding benefits and concerns with housing, healthcare, and education.
Among the panellists who spoke at the event was Military Connection CEO, Debbie Gregory. Ms. Gregory is always happy to speak at events for and concerning Veterans. She considers it an honor and privilege to inform Veterans about their benefits and advocate to employers about what Veterans can do for their businesses.
The aim of the summit was to show black Veterans specifically what resources are available to them. Black Veterans have had high rates in unemployment, homelessness and incarceration. Leaders in the black Veteran community want to be sure that other black Veterans were informed about services, benefits and resources that are available to them through the VA, their state and communities.
The summit was an opportunity for black Veterans to receive beneficial information from a panel of experts. It was also a rare and valuable opportunity for Veterans in attendance to get face time with senior Veterans affairs officials from state and federal departments.
While no one believes that concerns within California’s black Veteran community will be resolved any time soon, they believe that the Black Veterans Summit was a step in the right the direction. While nothing has been firmed up yet, it would be expected to see more events like this one in the future.
*“Black” is the phrasing used by CalVet and the “Black Veterans Summit”