CONGRESSWOMAN EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON SALUTES OUR FALLEN SOLDIERS
Washington, DC (Friday, May 28, 2010) 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 military families are freedom’s foundation. Without the brave efforts of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and their families, our country would not live so freely.
On this Memorial Day, we continue to be engaged in hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and young men and women will pay the ultimate price while wearing the uniform of our nation. Let us honor the memory of the 4,400 Americans who have died in Iraq and more than 1,000 who have died in Afghanistan. We also honor the sacrifices of our wounded: nearly 32,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 5,700 in Afghanistan.
As we remember their patriotic sacrifices, we renew our commitment to keep our promises to the nation’s 3 million troops and reservists, their families, and 23 million veterans.
We promise to help them succeed. With this economic crisis, Congress has enacted critical measures to expand educational opportunity and economic relief. The new Post 9-11 GI Bill, which took effect in August, restores the promise of a full, four-year college education, allowing up to 2 million warriors of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to be part of a new American economic recovery, just like after World War II. And we have extended those crucial college benefits to all children of fallen service members since 9-11-01.
Recognizing that veterans coming home are facing double digit unemployment, this Congress has enacted incentives for businesses to hire unemployed veterans. As part of the Recovery Act, Congress provided nearly 2 million disabled veterans a $250 payment to help make ends meet.
We promise to provide the benefits they have earned and support military families. Many of our troops have served multiple tours of duty, with great strain on their families and substantial cost to their financial futures. In response, Congress provided special $500 payments for every month the 185,000 service members and veterans were forced to serve under stop-loss orders since 2001. Congress also has taken steps to reduce the backlog and wait for veterans trying to access their earned benefits.
This year, we increased military pay 3.4 percent and expanded TRICARE health benefits. We are building more military child care centers and better barracks and military family housing. With over a hundred thousand of service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan today, the recognition of the sacrifice that military families make every day has never been more important.
For wounded veterans, Congress just enacted landmark legislation to provide help to family members and other caregivers of disabled, ill or injured veterans, such as training, counseling, and respite care, and to eliminate copayments for catastrophically disabled veterans. Congress also provided family leave benefits for families of our wounded warriors.
Further, President Obama has proposed, and the House is about to pass, legislation taking a significant step toward ending the Disabled Veterans Tax for all medically retired service members. This tax unjustly forces disabled military retirees to give up one dollar of their pension for every dollar of disability pay. These veterans were so severely injured during their service that they had to retire and deserve full retirement and disability benefits.
We promise to meet their needs for high-quality health care. With the strong support of veterans’ organizations, this Congress has made an unprecedented commitment to veterans’ health care. The veterans’ budget, hailed as a “cause for celebration,” provides the largest funding increase for health care and other services ever requested by a President – even more than veterans’ organizations requested.
Through FY 2010, we have increased the investment in veterans’ health care and services by 60 percent since January 2007 -- including the largest single increase in the 78-year history of the VA. This funding has strengthened health care for more than 5 million veterans, resulting in 17,000 new doctors and nurses, and greater access for veterans in rural areas. It has been critical for the 382,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in need of care this year -- with expanded mental health screening and treatment -- to treat the signature injuries of the war, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Working with the President, Congress ended the Bush Administration’s ban on enrolling modest-income veterans for VA health care.
Congress enacted a law guaranteeing timely and predictable funding for veterans’ health care, a key priority of many veterans’ groups and provided advance appropriations of $48 billion for veterans’ medical care for 2011.
For the 1.8 million women who have bravely served, Congress just enacted legislation expanding and improving VA health care services for women veterans, providing care of newborn children of women veterans for the first time in history, and enhancing treatment for PTSD and sexual trauma.
These steps and many others were taken to bring a new direction after failures in administration and continuity of care were highlighted by the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
We promise to ensure our troops and their families have the resources they need. The defense authorization bill of 2010 boosted our force strength and bolsters our readiness so we can defend our national interests anywhere around the globe -- providing the best training and equipment for the men and women serving in our Armed Forces. The supplemental war funding bill Congress passed last summer provides our troops in harm’s way with everything they need, including much needed Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.
We promise to leave no soldier or veteran behind. 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. This day and every day, let us honor their service with actions that fulfill our commitment to our troops, their families and our veterans.
U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure and a senior member of the Science Committee. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas, which, includes Downtown Dallas, Fair Park, Oak Lawn, Turtle Creek, Old East Dallas, Pleasant Grove, & South Oak Cliff; all of Balch Springs, DeSoto, Hutchins, Lancaster & Wilmer and parts of Cedar Hill, Duncanville, Ferris, Glenn Heights and Ovilla.