Commissioner-Charles-Justice-web
Charles Justice
Pinellas County Commission Chairman
In Pinellas County, we demonstrate respect and admiration for our military veterans year-round. But this is a time of year when we pay extra attention to the men and women who courageously defended our nation. With Veterans Day upon us (celebrated on Monday, Nov. 12), I wanted to share some of the ways the Board of County Commissioners expresses our appreciation for the approximate 90,000 veterans who call Pinellas home.

During our board meeting on Oct. 23, we devoted the opening segment to our veterans. Gifted young guitarist Andrew Rotunno provided a beautiful instrumental-only rendition of the National Anthem. Our talented Employee Choir gave a moving performance of God Bless America. Following that, Chairman Ken Welch called up eight members of our Community Veterans Engagement Board, along with Pinellas County Veterans Services Director Michael Hill, and read a proclamation recognizing Nov. 11, 2018, as Veterans Day.

One of the best treats came when County Administrator Mark Woodard presented an artist’s rendering of the Order of Purple Heart Monument that we will be erecting at War Veterans’ Memorial Park in Bay Pines. The monument will be positioned adjacent to the Battlefield Cross Monument, which the Board and several county departments dedicated on Memorial Day 2015 to honor fallen service members from the Gulf War era. The new monument is being custom fabricated and will be dedicated on Purple Heart Day next Aug. 7.

We continue to work on the nation’s first underwater dive memorial honoring veterans. The “Circle of Heroes” will be added to the popular Veterans Reef about 10 miles off the Pinellas County shore and about 40 feet deep. It will feature 24 life-size concrete statues of military members from different eras surrounding a 5,830-pound centerpiece featuring bronze emblems representing each of the U.S. Armed Forces. “Circle of Heroes” will be an iconic attraction for the region and lasting tribute to those who have given so much.

Our devotion to our veterans goes far beyond honoring them with monuments. Pinellas County Veterans Services provides a wide variety of services that are free of charge. An individual qualifies for our services if he or she is a veteran, veteran’s dependent, surviving spouse or child of a veteran, reservist or National Guard member or active duty service member.

Services include providing guidance with compensation and pensions, education benefits, funeral benefits, health care, home loans, life insurance, survivor benefits and vocational rehabilitation and employment services. We help clients develop and present claims, obtain documents such as DD-214 discharge papers and death certificates and apply for housing assistance. To learn about these services, a veteran doesn’t even have to come to us. In the coming months, Veterans Services staff will conduct presentations at the county’s major libraries.

I mentioned our Community Veterans Engagement Board. This important body gives veterans, advocates, service providers and other stakeholders a voice in working to resolve issues at the local level to improve service delivery. The board’s mission is to improve outcomes by connecting public and private resources and capabilities and to create forums that facilitate working together.

Yet another way in which we honor our veterans is with Honor Flight of West Central Florida. At St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, local veterans frequently take to the skies to spend a day visiting important sites in our nation’s capital. The program stared with World War II veterans and has expanded to include veterans of other wars.

Finally, we are very proud of Pinellas County being designated a Purple Heart County in 2017. The Purple Heart medal is awarded to U.S. military members who have been wounded or killed in combat. Purple Heart counties (and cities) are part of the Purple Heart Trail, which features a symbolic and honorary system of roads, highways, bridges and other monuments that pays tribute those awarded the medal.

I hope this column has given you a sense of how the deep respect that I and my colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners have for our military and our veterans. As always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at cjustice@pinellascounty.org.