Our Country Owes A Debt Of Gratitude To Our Veterans

November 17, 2008

Last week, our country honored the men and women who have courageously fought for our country, by celebrating Veterans Day.  Veterans Day has a long and rich history that dates back to the ending of World War I on November 11, 1918.  To commemorate the war’s end, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 as Armistice Day – a national holiday to honor the brave sacrifices of our soldiers.

Since that time our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have traveled across the globe to defend our freedom.  Our military and their families have borne the cost of these wars, and they know most intimately the true cost of our country's freedom.

We have a moral obligation to try to repay these sacrifices.  During my 14 years in Congress and as the first Mississippian ever to serve on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am working to strengthen veterans' benefits in gratitude for their sacrifices.  While we have made great progress in improving the quality of care for our veterans, I believe there is much left to be done. 

                              STRENGTHEN VETERANS’ HEALTH CARE
Since 2001, Congress has doubled the amount of funding for veterans’ medical care.  We authorized more than $6 billion to modernize and expand VA medical facilities and have allocated over $1 billion to support traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment.    

Last year, I served as the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that funds the VA.  In this role, I helped shepherd through the largest increase in VA funding in history.  Today, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs totals more than $97 billion.  Our veterans deserve first-class health care, and I will continue to ensure that they receive the best possible care and treatment.       

                                     STRONGER GI BENEFITS
In 1944, Congress passed the GI Bill, which provided our veterans with the opportunity to receive higher education, private loans, and unemployment benefits.  In 1984, Mississippi Congressman Sonny Montgomery strengthened the GI Bill.  Sonny's bill ensured that the VA home loan guaranty and education programs in the GI Bill would remain viable for generations to come.  The time has come once again to improve those benefits.    

This year, Congress updated the Montgomery GI Bill, particularly the educational benefits.  We approved legislation that for the first time, allowed members of the military to transfer their unused educational benefits to their spouse or children.  We also increased education payments and career counseling services for returning veterans, especially those who were wounded in combat.  These changes have strengthened a historic piece of legislation. 

                                  AN APPRECIATIVE COUNTRY
As an officer who served in our US Air Force and as a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and the Armed Services Committees, I am working with my colleagues to build on these achievements and develop a sound policy and a fiscal basis for sustaining comprehensive veterans’ benefits for the brave men and women of our armed services.