Joni Buentello Cole joined the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) nine years ago. Ms. Cole spent her first three years with the Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction (OALC) and the past six years with the Office of Information Security (OIS). “I targeted OIT because I felt it was a fast-paced, innovative, forward-thinking, progressive office within VA, and that was very appealing to me.” Ms. Cole’s entire career has been dedicated to serving active duty military and Veterans, “The Veterans I serve are the source of my motivation, passion, and integrity in what I do.” Ms. Cole was born to a father in the military, Jesus (Jesse) Flores Buentello, a WWII veteran. He was Mexican American, born and raised in Texas, and died when she was 22 years old.
What are some of the important issues that disproportionately affect Hispanic and Latinx Veterans today? How can VA bring awareness or address these issues?
This topic is very close to me as my father was an Army Veteran along with his niece and two of her sons, who are Navy and Army Veterans. Although VA remains committed to caring for our Veterans, my father did not always have the support or resources he needed as a WWII survivor and Purple Heart recipient. He left the Army early in his career for medical reasons and struggled throughout the years because of his service-related disabilities. Some of those struggles included access to health care and benefits, which are ongoing challenges for many Veterans today.
Additionally, the Hispanic and Latinx communities comprise the largest minority group in the United States. I would like to see a larger representation of Hispanic and Latinx staff in OIT, especially women, to reflect our country’s makeup more accurately.
Why do you believe Hispanic Heritage Month is important to recognize?
It’s important to recognize the strength and resilience of the Hispanic and Latinx people throughout the generations along with the cultural wealth coming from the various groups under that umbrella. The stories my father told me were stories of survival, overcoming hardship, and racism within and outside of his military service. The closest living relative to my father is his niece, Juanita (Janie) Hernandez Mancillas, who served in the Navy. At the time, she was one of the few women who served. In fact, her picture is inducted in the Naval History and Heritage Command. Janie also shared how Hispanic women in her generation and generations after hers did not succumb to adversities and challenges; they were strong and resilient. They were survivors. Both my father and my cousin are examples of the Hispanic and Latinx influences on our nation.
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