Our service members and veterans are the lifeblood of our great nation. They frequently are called to put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard our homeland and defend our liberties. Their sacrifices must never go unnoticed or unrewarded. We as a nation shall forever be indebted to those brave individuals who make up our armed forces units, the strongest military in the world. Without their blood, sweat, and tireless devotion to America, none of us would be able to say that we are citizens of the greatest country in the world.
Unfortunately, return from combat can be traumatic for a service member. Veterans may struggle with unemployment, post-traumatic stress disorder, or homelessness on a day to day basis. For example, the current economic environment has left millions of Americans out of work and has made it exceptionally difficult for them to find jobs. This problem is particularly acute in our nation’s veteran community. Data has shown that veterans, especially those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, have faced a high unemployment rate upon discharge. This situation is simply unacceptable.
As they have fought to safeguard our freedom, we need to safeguard their future. As the Congressman for Georgia’s Second Congressional District, which includes Fort Benning and the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, it is my duty to represent my constituents by not only maintaining adequate salary, benefit, and readiness levels for our nation’s military, but to also keep our promise to our veterans and military retirees. With this directive in mind, I worked with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) in sponsoring the Hiring Heroes Act, a program that expands education and training opportunities for veterans. Introduced and passed last year, this bill has gone far in addressing the high rate of unemployment in the veteran community.
I came to Congress in 1992 with the strong desire to go the extra mile for those who have so bravely defended our homeland. One of my first assignments in the House of Representatives was regarding Veterans Affairs, and ever since, their issues have continued to be at the forefront of my legislative agenda. Today, I am privileged to serve as the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriation Committee’s Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, of which I have been a member since joining the Appropriations Committee in 2003. As budgets grow tighter throughout the entire nation, the need to fund necessary programs for veterans becomes more and more critical with each passing year.
Thankfully, the necessity to finance veterans programs can be agreed upon in a bipartisan manner. Most recently, the FY2013 Military Construction/VA bill has gone forward with immense support. Funding major components of the Veterans Administration, the MilCon/VA bill is vitally important to the strength and well-being of our military, our veterans, and the families who sacrifice so much to defend our country. Working with Chairman John Culberson and the members of the subcommittee, we crafted a bill that will address the funding needs for military construction and family housing for our troops and their families as well as other quality of life construction projects. In addition, it will provide funding for many important VA programs as well as agencies like the Veterans Court of Appeals and the American Battle Monuments Commission.
The appropriations bill of year 2013 contains $54.4 billion in advance appropriations for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities at the VA, which is nearly $2 billion above the amount included in this year’s bill. Advance funding provides timely and predictable funding for the veterans’ health care system, providing the VA with more time to plan the implementation and delivery of its health care services. In addition to other measures, the bill goes on to recommend funds for the mandatory VA programs providing compensation and pensions, education benefits, vocational rehabilitation, life insurance, and housing loan programs.
Doing whatever we can do to improve the overall quality of life for our military veterans is not new with this Congress. Under the leadership of a Democratically controlled House of Representatives, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee doubled the FY2008 budget for Veterans Affairs by an unprecedented $6.7 billion above the FY2007 level, making it the largest single increase in the 77 year history of the Veterans Administration. It provided the largest increase in VA healthcare in American history and added 1,100 new claims processors to help reduce the backlog within the VA.
I was proud to take part in this action as a voting member of the Subcommittee, and have since followed the example of my predecessors in leadership. The current fiscal year Veterans’ bill will touch every soldier, sailor, marine, and airman in the service as well as impacts military spouses, their children, and veterans that participate in VA programs. After numerous meetings and hearings with veterans, active service members, and military families, the Subcommittee crafted a bill that gives the military and Veterans Administration the resources they need to succeed.
“…To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan...”
The wise words of President Abraham Lincoln and the motto of the Veterans Administration remind us so vividly why we in Congress need to work on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Today, millions of Americans are the beneficiaries of those service members who have made great sacrifices in preserving our democracy, protecting our freedom, and defending our liberties. In response, we, as a nation, have a responsibility to pay tribute to our nation’s veterans and preserve the memory of their patriotism by ensuring that they are provided with the resources they need to live successful lives following active duty.