Paying It Forward: Supporting America's Hispanic Veterans
with Danny Vargas of the American Latino Veterans Association (ALVA)
The U.S. veteran population is expected to become more racially and ethnically diverse in the years to come, with the Hispanic and Latino veteran population projected to double in the next quarter century.
Danny Vargas, CEO, founder, and chairman of the American Latino Veterans Association, joins host Liliana Henao Holmes to discuss the contributions of Latinos serving in the U.S. military and efforts to help Latino veterans thrive following their service.
September 01, 2022
Henao Holmes: Hispanics have been active participants in military service to America since its founding. More than 10,000 Spanish troops aided the United States during the American Revolution. There have been 61 Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War through the war in Afghanistan. And today, Hispanics comprise about 17% of all active-duty service members. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Liliana Henao Holmes. Similar to trends in the overall U.S. population, the veteran population is expected to become more racially and ethnically diverse in the years to come, with the Hispanic veteran population projected to double in the next quarter century. Joining me to discuss contributions to our nation's defense and efforts to help this population thrive is Danny Vargas, CEO, founder, and chairman of the American Latino Veterans Association. Danny, bienvenido. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers."
Vargas: Thank you, Liliana.
Henao Holmes: I want to start with a quote of yours. The quote says “For far too long the contributions to the Hispanic and Latino community to our armed forces and our defense have been under-recognized and under-valued."... As the founder and CEO of ALVA, what can you tell us about the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos to the U.S. armed forces?
Vargas: So thank you very much for that question, Liliana. I think it's important that we recognize that Latinos have fought in every single war we have ever had. We have been indispensable to the founding, the defending of this nation, going back to the Revolutionary War. General Washington likely would not have won the War of Independence had it not been for Spanish General Gálvez and 11,000 Spanish troops that came from the Caribbean and from Central America and from the New World to stem the advance of the British from the south. You know, going to the Civil War, the first admiral in the United States Navy was David Farragut, or more accurately pronounced, "Da-veed Farra-goot." You know, in World War II, there were over half million Latino troops fighting in every theater of World War II. And in the Korean conflict, one of the most highly decorated combat units was the U.S. Army's 65th Infantry Regiment, The Borinqueneers of Puerto Rico, setting the gold standard for the bravery of a combat unit. And you can't imagine going to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall right here in Washington, D.C., without seeing the thousands of Hispanic surnames etched on that wall, all the young Latinos and Latinos that have fought and sacrificed for us in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. You know, Hispanics take a backseat to no one in the defense of liberty.
Henao Holmes: Danny, you're a veteran yourself. You served seven years in the U.S. Air Force. So how did your experience serving is now impacting the work you do through ALVA?
Vargas: So I am incredibly proud of my service in the United States Air Force. I was able to serve overseas in Panama for five years and had an incredible time. It was a phenomenal mission. It taught me to be more responsible, to be more grown-up, and lots of ways to be able to enrich my my own personal experience. But I think we have so many Latino veterans that still need support. They need to have the type of resources that they need to be able to either get a job or start a business or seek out the sort of services that they need, whether it's health care or mental health. We also know that their stories of their contributions have not been told. So we need to make sure that we're telling those stories of Latino contributions in the military from the Revolutionary War to today so that everyone can recognize and appreciate that service.
Henao Holmes: Now, Danny, according to recent data, the overall size of the U.S. military has been on a downward trajectory for several decades, yet the share of racial and ethnic minorities in the military has grown steadily. Hispanics in particular are the fastest growing minority population in the military, a shift that aligns with larger demographic trends in the United States. So what has your organization identified as the key issues impacting Hispanic veterans today?
Vargas: So I'll answer to some of your numbers. You know that we currently today have over 1.5 million Latino veterans in the country. We know that Latinos are about 8% of the veteran population in the country, and that number is gonna double within the next 25 years to 16% of the veteran population. We are today 31% of the minority veteran population. And by 2046, we will be 42% of the minority veteran population. So the community is going to continue to grow, but the needs continue to be there. So they will need support in getting the type of education and training resources they need to be able to get into jobs in the future. So we have been working to secure agreements with educational institutions so they can get that training. They also, in many cases, will need to start a business, because one of the great ways to be able to have financial stability as a veteran is to start your own company. So they need support in doing that. They also need information on the resources and benefits that they have access to. So we're putting that information together, you know, particularly as it relates to health care and mental health resources. And then, also, we're making sure that we are pulling together the resources to tell the stories of Latino veteran contributions throughout the centuries. So we're working on a whole host of those issues and making sure that we're having a voice as it relates to public policy as well.
Henao Holmes: Danny, if someone wants more information or wants to get involved to help break down those access barriers for Hispanic veterans, where can they go?
Vargas: They can come to our website. We are a membership organization. Membership is free to veterans and their family members. And then we ask folks to support us as well. So they can come to our website, and that's alvavets.org. That's alvavets.org. And they can come and support what we're trying to do.
Henao Holmes: Danny Vargas from the American Latino Veterans Association, gracias, thank you so much for being here today.
Vargas: Thank you so very much.
Henao Holmes: And thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Liliana Henao Holmes.