Saturday, November 10, 2007

Berry: Our Nation Must Pledge to Leave No Veteran Behind

On this Veterans Day, let us remember their commitment and service to our country. Below is an Op Ed I wrote that ran in the Jonesboro Sun that expresses how thankful we are for their dedication to preserve our freedom.


Throughout the history of our nation, brave men and women have answered the call of duty to defend our democracy and preserve our freedom. From the War for America's Independence to today’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am inspired by the courage, professionalism and patriotism of our men and women in uniform as well as their families. We are not just the beneficiaries of their bravery - we are also stewards of their sacrifice.

Each November our country comes together to remember veterans who served their nation and those who paid the ultimate price to preserve our country's freedom. We are eternally thankful for the sacrifices our soldiers and their families make for our country. Without the brave efforts of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines as well as their families, our country would not stand so boldly, shine so brightly and live so freely.

Unfortunately, many of the veterans who return home find they must wage a new war against the bureaucracy to receive their health care and benefits. In addition, a recent study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that although veterans make up only 11 percent of the general adult population, they represent 25 percent of the homeless population. These examples and countless others illustrate that promises have been broken. Any instance where a veteran receives less than the best healthcare and services this country is able to provide is not only shameful – it's wrong.

So many veterans depend on improved care, and we cannot afford to let them be treated as a number instead of the heroes they truly are. Caring for our veterans is a moral obligation our country must repay, and it should be paid promptly.

To begin to fulfill our commitment, this Congress is on course to enact a veterans’ spending bill that provides the largest increase in veterans’ health care in our nation’s history. This investment is in addition to the $5.2 billion added earlier this year to strengthen health care for more than five million veterans. This year Congress has added more than $10 billion in funding to help veterans have access to resources and get the care they need.

These are critical improvements for the thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, and are in need of better care to successfully rebuild their lives once they return home. We have also passed the Wounded Warriors Assistance Act to address the revelations of problems and gaps in care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other soldiers’ and veterans’ health care facilities across the nation.

To honor all generations of veterans, the House also passed the GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century. This demonstrates our promise to invest in veterans’ health care and to strengthen benefits for our men and women in uniform today as well as for the veterans and military retirees who have already served.

The 110th Congress has made strengthening our armed forces and restoring our great military’s capability to protect us against threats throughout the world a top priority. To address this need, we are strengthening force protection for our troops, including providing more body armor and better protected armored vehicles and providing more training for our troops. We are also focusing on rebuilding the National Guard and Reserves, which have made an unprecedented commitment in the Iraq War.

Congress is also working to keep our promises to our troops and their survivors through the bipartisan Defense Appropriations bill, which the House recently passed and we hope the President will sign. The measure increases military pay by 3.5 percent and helps the 60,000 survivors and widows of those who have died from service-connected injuries receive their benefits, which they are currently unable to do because of the Military Families Tax. The bill also makes progress toward ending the Disabled Veterans Tax.

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 real actions that fulfill our commitment to our troops and their families to show our veterans that we are a grateful nation. On this Veterans Day, we especially honor the more than the 3,800 Americans who have died in Iraq, as well as the 455 who have died in Afghanistan. We also honor the 28,000 U.S. troops wounded in Iraq and the 1,700 wounded in Afghanistan who must adjust to a new and different way of life.

As we celebrate Veterans Day, the thoughts and prayers of all Americans are with the families who have lost a loved one. We pray for our soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world and wish them Godspeed in their return to the loving arms of their families. No other group of Americans has stood stronger and braver for our freedom than our troops and veterans. To all the veterans and their families—thank you for your courage, your character, your strength. Every American owes you a debt of gratitude that words cannot repay.

Marion Berry of Gillett represents Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District and is a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees.