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News Releases
Tech Sgt. Boehme serving in the Portland Pride Parade color guard.
Tech Sgt. Boehme serving in the Portland Pride Parade color guard.
Air National Guard member receives command approval to march in uniform in Portland, Seattle pride parades (Photo) - 06/21/17

This weekend, Portland Air National Guard Technical Sgt. Nathaniel Boehme had the rare honor of wearing his military uniform during the Portland Pride Parade on June 18. He will also be allowed to march in uniform during the Seattle Pride Parade that will take place on June 25.

Active military cannot appear in uniform at pride parades and other events without the authorization of their local unit commanders, and it is believed that Boehme is the first active service member to receive this honor in Oregon or Washington. He had previously requested to appear in uniform during the 2015 and 2016 events, but was not approved.

"I am humbled and honored to be the first-ever active military member in all of Oregon or Washington to receive official permission to wear my military uniform in a Pride parade," Boehme said. "After three years of trying, it's fantastic to see the Air National Guard taking this step to show its commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and community."

Boehme is a proud third-generation airman and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also serves as the LGBTQ veterans coordinator for the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs (ODVA), a position that was the first of its kind in the nation when it was created by the Legislature in 2015.

"We are very proud of Nathaniel for his service to our state and nation, both in and out of uniform," said ODVA Director Cameron Smith. "At the same time, we think of the thousands of LGBTQ veterans in our state who previously could not serve their country openly and who may not have accessed the full range of benefits and resources they've earned. We are thankful for all of our veterans' service, and our team and network of veteran service officers are here to assist."

Boehme is a certified veteran service officer and his office is available to assist Oregon LGBTQ veterans in a variety of services, including military records corrections, filing claims for VA compensation, and providing guidance on other benefits and resources available to Oregon veterans and their families.

He can be reached at 971-720-9016 (call or text) or LGBTQvets@odva.state.or.us, or connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OregonLGBTQVets.

Veteran service offices provide free benefit counseling to veterans and their families and are located in every county in Oregon. To find one nearest you, visit www.oregon.gov/ODVA/VSODIRECT/pages/locator.aspx.

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VA-funded transportation program clears major milestone in serving Oregon's highly rural veterans - 06/12/17

Oregon's Highly Rural Transportation Program, a federal, state and local partnership that is helping meet the urgent transportation needs of veterans who live in extremely rural areas, has logged over 500,000 miles in its first two years of operation.

That's farther than the distance to the moon and back.

Veterans who were served by this program did not fly to the moon, but they were transported all over the Pacific Northwest to see their doctors and receive medical care. Federally funded and administered by the state and its partner agencies in the 10 participating counties, the program is tailored to the needs of rural veterans, who often do not have adequate access to medical care in their communities.

Connie Guentert, Wallowa County manager for Community Connection of Northeast Oregon Inc., knows these challenges better than most. Community Connection is the Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs' (ODVA's) partner agency for the Highly Rural Transportation Program in both Wallowa and Baker counties, and Guentert and her dedicated staff grapple with the difficulty of serving highly rural veterans and other clients every day.

"We're very remote out here," she said. "We have very large land expanses, minimal medical facilities, and the only public transportation in the county is us. Our drivers face long winters, adverse weather and road conditions, rock slides, deer, elk, even bears on the road."

The trips are rarely short. Because of the scarcity of services, Wallowa County veterans must travel to appointments in La Grande, Walla Walla, Boise, and even as far as Portland or Tacoma -- a round trip of over 700 miles.

Funding comes in the form of annual grants from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A maximum of $50,000 may be awarded to any counties classified as "highly rural," which means fewer than seven residents per square mile. Oregon has 10 such counties (Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Lake, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Wallowa and Wheeler), and since 2014, ODVA has received the maximum funding allotment for each participating county.

The impact has been remarkable. From October 2014 to September 2016, a total of 529,199 miles were logged -- which accounts for about half of the nationwide total reported by Oregon and all the other states participating in the VA-funded program.

Oregon's drivers also tracked over 9,000 trips, spent over 20,000 hours on the road and served 2,279 veterans during that same period.

Mitch Sparks, ODVA's director of statewide veteran services, credits the program's success to the ingenuity of the participating counties and transportation providers, who have used the funds to enhance new and existing programs in order to get the maximum value from each grant.

"This program's success is directly due to the outstanding management of each county's transportation system and their ability to creatively transport veterans by partnering with other transportation networks and overcoming weather, distance and other adverse circumstances," Sparks said.

The program has made a real difference in reducing the strain on state and local safety net programs that would otherwise be responsible for bridging the gaps in serving vulnerable residents in highly rural areas.

Even so, the VA grants go only so far in meeting the high level of need that exists. Guentert said the grant funds last only about seven or eight months -- not the full 12 for which they are intended. After that point, her organization has to begin to draw on other funds closer to home -- like a biennial allotment they receive from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

"We truly appreciate the VA grant, and the veterans love it," Guentert said. "It's just that the need is so great."

If you are a veteran living in one of the 10 participating counties and would like more information about the Highly Rural Transportation Program, please contact your local county or transportation office. A complete list of the appropriate contacts can be found on ODVA's website at http://wp.me/p60SnD-Nf.

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