When I first took office in 2009, I discovered previous administrations had been selling military medals found in safe deposit boxes held as Unclaimed Property to the highest bidder. I immediately stopped the sale of these medals and worked to pass two laws. The first law ensured no future treasurer could sell military medals and went in to effect in 2010. The second law, passed just this year, allows my office to share information about the last known owners of the safe deposit boxes containing medals, increasing our chances of returning them.
These medals and insignia are a physical representation of a veteran’s service and sacrifice. Protecting military medals and ensuring that we do everything possible as a state to return these medals to those who earned them is the right thing to do. I am working with the public and the military to return the more than 100 medals I protect in Unclaimed Property to the individuals who earned them or their heirs.
Earlier this year I returned a medal to Dale Edwards, whose father-in-law, Martin Tittsworth, was a B-17 crew member in World War II. Martin was a ball-turret gunner, one of the most dangerous jobs in the war. He returned home from the war but over the years his medals were lost. Today, Martin’s medals are back with his family and his story will be passed on. Veterans’ medals should not sit gathering dust on a shelf in my administration’s vault. They should be with the veterans who earned them.
In 2010, I began working toward a special needs housing effort that combines brick and mortar housing with support services to care for the most vulnerable in society — individuals at high risk of homelessness. This group unfortunately includes a large number of veterans. Due to this effort, the state housing commission has approved more than 200 units — such as the Salvation Army Veterans Residence in St. Louis and the Augustine S. Cameron Place recently completed in Kansas City, Mo. — specifically serving veterans. These units provide dignity, growth and independence for those veterans battling substance abuse, suffering from mental illness and working to rebuild after a difficult chapter in their lives.
Veterans entering the civilian workforce bring with them valuable training and skills. To overlook these qualities is a disservice to our veterans and a missed opportunity for our economy. These men and women deserve good-paying jobs that reflect the skills they have obtained while in service. I am proud to help veterans start and grow our main street small businesses in Missouri. Through my office’s Missouri Linked Deposit Program, I have approved more than $70 million in loans for veteran-owned businesses, impacting more than 1,700 jobs throughout the state. From a dentist’s office in northeast Missouri to a construction company in southwest Missouri, I am proud to help veterans improve our communities.
I recently spoke with the widow of a gentleman who had served in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart. When he returned from the war he was so worried how people in the airport would react to his service, he changed out of his uniform in the bathroom. Our veterans should never feel ashamed of their service. Everyone who has served in the military deserves our heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifices they made in order to protect us and our country.
Remembering their legacy, providing housing and ensuring our veterans have a job is the least we can do. Thank you to all of our veterans for your service. I will continue to do all I can to ensure you and your sacrifice will not be forgotten here in Missouri.
Clint Zweifel is the Missouri state treasurer.