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SDDVA Secretary Whitlock’s December Column – Happy Holidays



For more information, contact: Audry Ricketts (South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs) at 605-773-8242 or audry.ricketts@state.sd.us  


With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it is important to reflect on the many blessings we have in our lives. While we are busy shopping, wrapping gifts, decorating, and baking; let Christmas serve as an important reminder of just how blessed we are and how fortunate we are to live in a country where we are free to celebrate.


South Dakota has a proud history of military heroes and while we enjoy this holiday season, let us not forget their service to this country that has spanned the generations. Let us not forget the families of current and past soldiers, as they also endured a great deal while loved ones were deployed.


The peace and freedom we enjoy as Americans have been secured by the sacrifices of generations of veterans. I believe it is a privilege and an honor for us to assist our veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. Our commitment is to serve them as well as they’ve served us.


As another year winds down, I think with pride of the force of experts that we have working at the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs. Most of them have worn the boots, walked the trenches, conducted maneuvers, commanded troops, sustained missions, and protected our freedoms. They are veterans that have borne the battle and are committed to ensuring that our heroes receive the highest quality services possible.


In 2021, the Department assisted thousands of veterans in obtaining and enhancing their federal and state benefits. Department employees have aided more than 200 veterans with their appeals with the VA.


Our team participated in over 40 outreach events throughout the state and our field service officers traveled to all 66 counties and every reservation to assist county and tribal veterans service officers. We hosted our annual training conference for all county and tribal veterans service officers, providing more than 15 hours of training for them.


We continued to provide skilled nursing care and specialty care for our veterans at the state veterans’ home, and in October, we received a five-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  We had 54 counties and three tribes utilize our veterans service officer’s salary supplement reimbursement program. 


We hosted the Midwest Honor Flight poker ride at the state cemetery. We assisted hundreds of veterans with their education benefits, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training programs.  We paid more than $80,000 in bonuses to South Dakota veterans.


We dedicated 12 South Dakota bridges honoring 11 fallen heroes. That program has dedicated a total of 20 bridges around the state since 2019. There have been thousands of proud Americans who have joined us at the ceremonies to celebrate these brave men and women.


Finally, we opened South Dakota’s first state veteran’s cemetery and have conducted over 250 burials.   


Our primary mission is to advocate with purpose and passion for South Dakota’s veterans and link them to superior services, benefits, and support. Our team is at the forefront of the most demanding challenges confronting our state’s veterans. Our staff is committed to keeping South Dakota the No. 1 state for a veteran to live and work.


We wish you and your family a blessed holiday season and a new year of peace and happiness. As you and your family gather this holiday season, please keep our heroes; past, present, and future in your hearts. God bless our veterans, their families, caregivers, survivors, and our troops that are currently serving in harm’s way. And may we as a nation always give them our very best. 


Greg Whitlock, Secretary

South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs