Wicker: November is Time to Honor Service to Our Country

November 16, 2009

Veterans across the country were honored last week for their service to America.  Each year on November 11, we rightfully recognize those who have served and borne the cost of our defense of freedom.  This Veterans Day was particularly solemn, as our nation mourned the loss of 13 of our finest following the recent tragedy at Fort Hood in Texas.  This terrible loss was yet another reminder of how much we owe our men and women in uniform.

As a grateful nation, we have a moral obligation to honor the sacrifices made by our veterans and those who currently serve in the military.  As an officer who served in the U.S. Air Force and as the first Mississippian ever to join the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am committed to strengthening care and improving the quality of life for our veterans and service members. 

                        IMPROVING VETERANS’ CARE
Mississippi has a proud legacy of patriotism and military service.  Over 250,000 veterans call Mississippi home, with many of them living in rural parts of the state.  Through my position on the Veterans’ Committee, I am working to strengthen the quality and access to care for veterans, particularly those in rural states like Mississippi.

Priority must be given to maintaining the standard of care our service members receive as they transition from active duty to the VA.  I continue to work with leadership at the Defense Department and the VA to establish interoperable electronic medical records to achieve this.  I also support strengthening veterans’ access to care by increasing the number of veterans community based outpatient clinics, as well as improving collaboration between the VA and existing rural health facilities – something that can reduce the need for veterans in rural areas to drive great distances to reach a VA facility. 

                       RELIEF FOR MILITARY FAMILIES
Increasing funding and improving the quality of care are necessary in order to keep the promise our nation has made to its veterans.  As we continue strengthening that commitment, it is also important that we recognize and honor the sacrifices of another segment of our veteran and armed forces population – their family members.

In addition to being known for its relation to Veterans Day, November is also Military Families Month.  Military families may not make up the “boots on the ground” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places around the world, but they play an important part of the success of our military by providing critical love and support for our service members.  It is fitting that we also recognize this critical component of our military for all that they have given and will continue to give in the future.  

In acknowledgment of military families’ importance and sacrifice, I cosponsored the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act, legislation that has been approved by Congress and is awaiting President Obama’s signature.  This bill aims to make life easier for military spouses by giving them the same right as service members to maintain a state of legal residence, regardless of where military orders send them.  This will eliminate the need for spouses to update drivers’ licenses, change voter and vehicle registrations, and file taxes in multiple states as a result of moves due to military orders.  While modest, this new law will make a well-deserved impact on the quality of life for the spouses of our men and women in uniform. 

The next time we talk with a veteran, a current member of our military, or someone who has a loved one serving, we should thank them for the great lengths they have gone in defense of our nation and our freedoms.  The month of November gives us multiple opportunities to do so.