I am deeply committed to ensuring that our veterans receive the assistance they need and the benefits they've earned. It's the least we can do to recognize the debt we owe the men and women who have served our country in the military.
We can never adequately express our gratitude to our nation’s veterans, but the least we can do is fulfill the commitments that we made to them to provide them with the health care and other services that they need – and earned with their sacrifices for our country.
Just as it is the duty of every member of our armed forces to protect the freedoms and ideals of our country, we, the people of the United States, must uphold the promises that we, through our government, made to our veterans.
I learned first-hand about veterans and their post-service needs from my father – who came back from World War II with a 100 percent service-connected disability. Consequently, since I was elected to Congress, I have worked to do right by our nation’s veterans.
I have fought to ensure that the VA provides prompt and effective health care services to all our veterans, especially in light of the increased caseloads the VA health care system has experienced as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I have consistently voted to expand or modernize existing veterans benefits. I fought against budget cuts for veterans programs under President Bush, and I supported President Obama and Congressional Democrats’ efforts to ensure that we kept our promises to our veterans.
I have actively supported efforts to provide funding for research on treating traumatic brain injuries and damaged limbs, which have been the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have supported efforts to increase the VA’s mental health care capacity, including:
- Providing nearly 18,000 new VA doctors and nurses
- Adding 92 new Vet Centers and 145 community-based veterans outpatient clinics
- Enrolling nearly 300,000 modest-income veterans in VA health care for the first time since the enrollment ban imposed by President Bush
- Expanding health care access to rural veterans
I have strongly supported legislation to help recent veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan find new jobs and make the transition back to civilian life, including legislation enacted to:
- Give businesses a $2,400 tax credit for hiring unemployed veterans.
- Increase job opportunities with veterans’ on-the-job training in the energy sector and ensure fairness to veteran-owned small businesses in federal contracts.
- Expand relief, homeownership opportunities, and refinancing options for veterans.
- Retroactively provide more than 145,000 service members and veterans with $500 for every month they were forced to serve under stop-loss orders since 2001.
- Address the veterans’ claim backlog and the long wait for veterans to access earned benefits by adding 10,200 new claims processors since 2007.
- Provide long overdue disability benefits to more than 150,000 Vietnam veterans and survivors for exposure to Agent Orange.
- Build new transition centers for wounded warriors, more military child care centers, and better barracks and military family housing.
- Provide Family Medical Leave for families of soldiers wounded in combat.
- Reduce Military Families Tax on surviving spouses.
And on May 15, 2008, I voted i n favor of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act - a bill that expands the GI Bill’s education benefits to ensure that the men and women who have served in the armed forces since 9/11 will have the financial support they need to pursue higher education. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (Public Law 110-252), often referred to as the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the GI Bill for the 21st Century, provides up to 100 percent of the cost of an in-state four-year college education for up to 2 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including tuition assistance, a housing allowance, and a stipend for books and supplies. In addition, eligible veterans have the option to transfer these benefits to family members under certain circumstances.