Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this November 11 will be a different Veterans Day than previous ones. To protect the health and safety of Marin County residents, this year’s tribute to local military veterans will be a virtual one.
Rather than participating in the longstanding annual gathering at the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael, supporters are encouraged to watch for tributes on the Facebook pages of the Marin County Veterans Service Officeand the Marin County United Veterans Council. It won’t be the same as seeing and mingling with each other, but it’s the best and safest tribute the community can make under COVID-19 conditions.
“To those who served their country in uniform, you protected us, and now it is our duty and obligation to protect you,” said Kari Beuerman, Assistant Director of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Social Services Division. “The fact that this year’s tribute is a virtual one does not lessen or dampen the appreciation we feel or the spirit and sentiment of the day.”
Those wishing to honor veterans by laying a wreath at a memorial around the county are asked to follow Marin HHS’ advice on social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. For instance, if someone is visiting the statues and monuments on Avenue of the Flags at Marin Center, other visitors are asked to wait until others have left before paying their own respects. For that reason, the County suggests not necessarily visiting at the traditional 11 a.m. time slot – marking the 11th hour of the 11th day of November, when World War I officially ended in 1918 – but rather spacing visits throughout the day.
The Marin County Veterans Service Office has remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and remains equipped to serve the more than 10,000 local military vets who might need assistance with filling out forms, and connecting to mental health services, medical services, social services, tuition aid at local colleges, pensions, military discounts, and death benefits. Most appointments are being managed by phone, streamlining office efficiencies and greatly reducing wait times to get an appointment.
The office is led by Sean Stephens, a U.S. Army veteran who completed four combat tours of duty in Afghanistan. Stephens said it is important for local vets to know about services available by phone, email, and the internet through the San Rafael office. A key role this fall is directing vets to federal Veterans Administration health services for free seasonal influenza and shingles vaccines.
“Because of the pandemic, we’re assisting vets remotely as much as we can and discouraging face-to-face visits in the interest of safety,” Stephens said. “With the same motivation, the VA has beefed up its telehealth program so that many appointments can be handled over the phone or a secured videoconference. No matter what, we do not want our vets to miss out on the benefits they earned when they raised their right hand and took the oath to serve their country.”