By Congressman Bob Filner
Each November 11th, our country comes together to remember our veterans who have served and sacrificed in the name of freedom. The debt owed to them is immeasurable. Their sacrifices and those of our military families are freedom’s foundation. Indeed, without the brave efforts of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines and their families, our country would not stand so boldly, shine so brightly and live so freely. We must take this opportunity to renew our efforts keep our promises to the 25 million veterans in America.
Sadly, on this Veterans Day, we again are engaged in hostilities, and young men and women will pay the ultimate price while wearing the uniform of this nation. Recently, the 2,000th soldier was killed in Iraq and more than 15,000 troops who have been wounded in Iraq, many of them permanently. They have tremendous needs and we must be there for them. Let us support and pay tribute to our troops currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe. These troops have served our nation with honor and distinction and will become the veterans of tomorrow and a grateful nation must always honor that service.
To salute our veterans and soldiers, Democrats in Congress have introduced the comprehensive New GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century. In 1944, Congress enacted the original GI Bill of Rights, to honor the Greatest Generation, who ultimately won World War II. In doing so, the federal government supported our returning troops with educational benefits, loans to buy a home, and medical assistance. And in each major military conflict since, we have honored the service of those who wear the uniform through a new GI bill.
Now is the time for the U.S. government to again fulfill our moral obligation to those who have fought for freedom and democracy, and we have started by focusing on ending the Disabled Veterans’ Tax and adequately funding veterans’ health careand we will not stop until we leave no veteran behind.
We must keep our promises by renewing our efforts to fight for an end to the Disabled Veterans’ Tax. The Disabled Veterans’ Tax forces military retirees with service-connected disabilities to give up one dollar of their pension for every dollar of disability pay they receive. While Democrats in Congress have succeeded in getting a partial repeal, this unfair tax should be repealed for the remaining 400,000 disabled military retirees. Those who have sacrificed so much should receive all of their promised benefits, and we are working to force action on this critical issue.
For those returning from the frontlines, we will continue our efforts to fight to adequately invest in veterans’ health care. Our new GI Bill of Rights for the 21st century focuses on improving veterans’ health care, including mental health care, to meet the needs of our returning troops.
Those who have answered the call to duty should be able to rely on the promises of the nation for which they fought. And yet, more than 50,000 veterans are waiting in line for at least six months for veterans’ health care. That problem will only get worse with the growing number of returning service members from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In 2006, the Department expects to treat 5.2 million veterans - double the number in 1995.
Regrettably, the President’s budget provides only $106 million more than last year (excluding new fees on veterans), even as more than 120,000 returning forces from Iraq and Afghanistan have now sought health care with the VA. Democrats have been fighting to provide an additional $3.2 billion to meet the demand for current services and medical inflation, and have worked to ensure that the VA is adequately funded in future years.
Because of Democratic efforts, this summer, Republicans were finally forced to acknowledge that funding for veterans’ health was billions of dollars short. And Congress only remedied this illness in the VA health care system after pressure by Democrats and veterans organizations.
Unfortunately, Republicans have the wrong priorities for America. Republicans are once again preparing to shortchange our veterans cutting veterans’ health care by as much as $600 million even as the number of veterans is growing with our returning service members from Iraq and Afghanistan.
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 a New GI Bill of Rights worthy of our grateful nation.
No other group of Americans has stood stronger and braver for our democracy than our troops and veterans. We must celebrate, honor, and remember these courageous and faithful men and women by ending these unfair taxes on military families and disabled military retirees, and improving veterans’ health care to keep up with our returning soldiers. A stronger America begins at home; we must live up to our promises to the heroes who have kept our country free, safe and strong, instead of shortchanging our veterans.