Governor plans to establish cabinet level dept for vets
Gov. Togiola Tulafono is looking at establishing a new department of veterans and military affairs that will oversee all issues pertaining to veterans and those who have served and are now serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, while an order will be issued this week to allow the use of license plates honoring fallen soldiers by their family members under the Gold Star Family program.
His plan comes at a time when animosity between the governor and the American Samoa Veterans Association (ASVA) is high, due to his move to terminate the lease between the ASVA and ASG for the half-acre property in Tafuna, next to the Office of Motor Vehicles. It is used by the association as a veterans’ center. This case is going through the appeal’s process in the High Court.
It was during his Veterans Day address last Friday that the governor revealed his plan to submit next year to the Fono a bill creating this new department, whose director will be part of the cabinet, which will make it easier to address matters pertaining to veterans and those currently serving in the military.
Currently all matters pertaining to veterans are overseen by the Office of Veterans Affairs, which is under the jurisdiction of the Governor’s Office.
Togiola also said that this department will help address some of the differences and conflicts that have arisen in the past between the government and veterans. The governor didn’t cite any example of differences or conflicts, including the current land lease dispute.
The governor said that the new department is also to ensure that all government assets given to veterans are properly taken care of. One prime example of such an asset is the three-acre land set aside at the Tafuna Industrial Park to construct the veterans memorial monument.
Togiola said a committee, headed by Sen. Lemanu Peleti Palepoi Mauga — a veteran — has been appointed to oversee the construction of this project, for which $100,000 was allocated in the last fiscal year.
Members of the ASVA are also strongly opposed to building the memorial monument on the set aside land in the industrial park, and have further said that the allocated amount is not enough. In addition, ASVA has said, they can raise the funds themselves to build the monument.
Also during his Veterans Day address, Togiola said he will sign this week an executive order that will kick-start an important program that honors and remembers American Samoans who died in the wars, which is similar to programs in other states.
The executive order will allow the use of special license plates for vehicles of families whose family member has died in the war.
Togiola says the importance of this program is to honor and remember our Toa o Samoa who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. He said the use of license plates is one way to honor and remember these fallen heros, not only for their families, but everyone in the territory.
The license plate will be placed in the front of the vehicle, and these families members are part of the Gold Star Family.
According to the Gold Star Family Committee website, the Gold Star Family is any member of the immediate family of a person who died in a combat zone while serving in any branch of the armed forces.
The governor called on all residents of American Samoa to continue to honor veterans every day, not just on Nov. 11 each year. He thanked all veterans as well as those currently serving in the military for the service.
It should be noted that Sen. Lemanu, who has been appointed by Togiola to head the committee to oversee the construction of the veteran’s memorial project, is one of the candidates in the only declared team for governor and lt. governor in the 2012 gubernatorial general elections.
Samoa News reporters Ausage Fausia and Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this report.