May 23, 2008

Commentary:

Memorial Day: Putting our Troops and Veterans First

By Congressman Bob Filner

It is my hope on this Memorial Day that we, as a nation, remember the words of President Franklin Roosevelt when he said more than a half century ago, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”

Memorial Day is an occasion to remember and honor the memory of the heroes that have served and died in uniform. Our nation has a proud legacy of paying grateful tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform in defense of our nation, those living and those whose memories are steeped in the liberty and freedom we experience today. This Memorial Day, let us support and pay tribute to the courageous troops currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe, who are the veterans of tomorrow.

In this time of war, our grateful nation honors the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, friends and neighbors who have made the ultimate sacrifice. This Memorial Day will take on a more profound and personal significance for many American families this year – those who are mourning the loss of one of their own and those who have loved ones far from home.

All Americans will honor the memory of the more than 4,000 Americans who have died in Iraq and the nearly 500 who have died in Afghanistan. We will also honor the wounded: more than 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and nearly 2,000 in Afghanistan.

As we honor the fallen, we must take this opportunity to renew our efforts to keep our promises to the 24 million American veterans of today and tomorrow.

To fulfill that pledge, we are fighting to launch a new GI Bill, which will include a full, four-year education. With many of our troops having served two, three or more tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, appropriate education benefits are long past due, as current benefits pay only about 70 percent of a public college education.

After World War II, the original GI Bill launched millions of families on a course of prosperity toward achieving the American Dream—and set the American economy on the right course after an economically draining war. Every dollar spent on the original GI Bill created a seven-fold return for the economy. We hope this Memorial Day, President Bush will listen to our veterans, reconsider his current opposition, and support this bipartisan proposal that will strengthen our military and our economy.

Also with the support of all of the major veterans’ organizations, this Congress has made an unprecedented commitment to veterans health care. Last year, we enacted the largest increase in veterans’ health care in our nation’s history, strengthening health care for more than five million veterans. This year, we are building on that progress with another historic increase for veterans’ programs. This investment is critical to meet the needs of the 333,275 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan this year in need of care and the estimated 300,000 troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and are suffering from mental health problems, as well as those who have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury. All of these returning veterans will need better care to successfully rebuild their lives here at home.

The New Direction Congress is also strengthening our military and addressing the military readiness crisis. The war in Iraq has caused the worst U.S. military readiness crisis since the Vietnam War. The defense authorization bill directs $2.65 billion toward readiness initiatives that the Bush Administration refused to fund, including replenishing equipment shortages for active duty troops and the National Guard and Reserve, restoring dilapidated military barracks, and expanding Army training opportunities. This bill will boost our current force strength and strengthen our readiness, so we Americans can defend our national interests around the globe and provide the best training, equipment, and deployment conditions for the men and women serving in our Armed Forces.

The new Congress is also keeping our promises to our troops and their survivors. The defense bill also increases military pay by 3.9 percent – 0.5 percent more than the Pres-ident’s request; preserves and strengthens health benefits for service members and retirees by prohibiting fee increases in TRICARE and the TRICARE pharmacy program; creates new preventative health care initiatives; and expands DOD efforts to prevent suicides among service members and veterans, which are escalating to the point that they could “trump combat deaths” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Politics and partisanship should never be a factor in our support for American veterans or troops. On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.

Let us honor their service with actions that fulfill our commitment to our troops, their families, and our veterans – and that are worthy of our grateful nation. We must celebrate, honor, and remember these courageous and faithful men and women by restoring the promise of the GI Bill, strengthening our military, improving veterans’ health care, and giving our troops a pay raise.

Caring for veterans is an ongoing cost of war, and this Memorial Day, it is my hope that the Members of the House will come together to pay tribute to all of the men and women who have courageously served our great nation – those that have fought in past wars and those that are in harm’s way today.

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