Each Veterans Day, we come together to remember those who have served our country around the world. The debt we owe them is immeasurable.
I want to pay special tribute to the 4,400 Americans who died in Iraq and more than 1,300 service members who died in Afghanistan. I also want to recognize the sacrifices of nearly 32,000 men and women wounded in Iraq and nearly 9,000 wounded in Afghanistan.
Today, as we honor these sacrifices, I am renewing my personal commitment to supporting America’s 23 million verterans, including the 58,450 veterans here in Northern Virginia.
Over the last four years, I’ve helped the Democrat-led Congress acheive historic gains for veterans, service members, and their families.
Recognizing that veterans coming home are facing double digit unemployment, this Congress has enacted incentives for businesses to hire unemployed veterans, as well as efforts to increase job opportunities with veterans on-the-job training in the energy sector and to ensure fairness to veteran-owned small businesses in federal contracts. As part of the Recovery Act, Congress provided nearly 2 million disabled veterans a $250 payment to help make ends meet.
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.
We’ve increased the investment in veterans’ health care and services by 70 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 18,000 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 – providing VA health care access to nearly 300,000 veterans.
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.
The men and women of the armed services put their lives on the line to protect America’s interests and freedoms. As a nation, it is our duty to ensure they get the care and support they need when they return home. On this Veteran’s Day and every day going forward, I pledge to continue to work in Congress to live up to this sacred responsibility.
James P. Moran