MEMORIAL DAY: PUTTING OUR TROOPS AND VETERANS FIRST
Each year on Memorial Day, Americans come together to remember those who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of our country in the name of freedom and democracy. The debt owed to them is immeasurable. Their sacrifices and those of their families are freedom’s foundation. Without the brave efforts of all our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guard and their families, our country would not live so freely.
On this Memorial Day, we remember the patriotic sacrifices of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. While we continue to have troops deployed in Afghanistan, the President has kept his commitment to end the American war in Iraq in a responsible way and is making progress in the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This honors the remarkable sacrifice and service of our men and women in uniform over the last ten years, and gives us the opportunity to make the United States stronger around the world – and at home, building an American future worthy of our veterans’ sacrifice.
On this Memorial Day, we renew our commitment to keep our promises to the nation’s more than 2 million troops and reservists, their families, and 22 million veterans, including more than 775,000 veterans in Georgia and more than 42,000 in the Fourth District. Let us also honor the memory of the 4,500 Americans who have died in Iraq and the 2,200 who have died in Afghanistan. We also honor the sacrifices of our wounded: 32,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 18,000 in Afghanistan. Since 2001, more than 800 soldiers from Georgia have been killed in action.
As part of keeping our promises to our veterans, the President and Democrats in Congress are focused on taking major steps to help our men and women in uniform obtain good jobs when they come home. Our soldiers who have fought on the battlefields for our freedom should not have to fight for a job when they come home. With 170,000 returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan unemployed and looking for work, we have an obligation to make sure our veterans have the necessary tools to succeed in the civilian workforce.
In 2011, Congress enacted President Obama’s veterans hiring initiative, to expand job opportunities for our veterans through tax credits for businesses that hire service members. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act also includes additional provisions to boost hiring for veterans and provide them with the training they need to find a job in civilian life. With this law, America can welcome our soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guard back into their communities as entrepreneurs, small business owners, and workers.
But there is more to do. The President has proposed to make permanent the veterans hiring tax credits. Since the implementation of these new tax credits in late 2011, there has been a near doubling of the number of veterans hired through tax credits in 2012. In his 2012 State of the Union address, the President embraced the idea of a Veterans Job Corps – to help our returning veterans find pathways to civilian employment and employ at least 20,000 veterans over 5 years and prioritize vets for first responder jobs such as police, firefighter, or EMT.
Another key concern for our veterans is the unacceptable backlog of veterans’ disability claims. Veterans should have timely access to the benefits they have earned through their service, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) backlog of claims for disability compensation is unacceptable.
We must take effective action to reduce the backlog of pending veterans’ claims and its impact now, and continue to promote innovation solutions at the VA to end the backlog over the long term. That’s why we have called on the Defense Department (DOD) to share complete records with the VA and introduced a legislative package of 10 bills -- many which have bipartisan support and are backed by veterans’ service organizations -- that provides tangible, forward-looking ideas to modernize the VA and get veterans’ claims and compensation settled faster. And to help veterans now as the VA addresses the backlog, we have offered the “Backlog Reduction Act” to immediately provide disability compensation to veterans waiting in the backlog.
From 2007 through 2010, under Democratic Leadership, the Congress made historic gains for America’s troops, veterans and military families. That is why the American Legion said “111th Congress Achieves Banner Year on Veterans Legislation… the real successes were the passage of bills that affected nearly every veteran in America.” And we will fight to preserve and build on this record. Over four years, the Democratically-led Congress:
• Enacted the new Post 9-11 GI Bill to restore the promise of a full, four-year college education, that has allowed nearly 1 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and their families to afford college, just like after World War II, along with tax incentives for hiring to expand job opportunities for returning soldiers.
• Strengthened health care for more than 5 million veterans, with a historic commitment -- including the largest single increase in the history of the VA -- for more doctors and nurses, better access for rural veterans, and expanded efforts to treat the signature injuries of the war, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, while enacting landmark legislation to guarantee timely and predictable funding for veterans’ health care and to address the health care needs of our nearly 2 million female veterans.
• Provided troops and veterans the benefits they have earned and resources they need, giving troops a pay raise, restoring military readiness, providing the best training and equipment for the men and women serving in our Armed Forces, taking steps to reduce the backlog and wait for veterans trying to access their earned benefits, and making headway in ending the Disabled Veterans Tax and the Military Families’ Tax.
• Strengthened support for military families, building more military child care centers and better military family housing, and enacting landmark legislation to provide much-needed support for family members and other caregivers for wounded veterans.
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. This day and every day, 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.