As Memorial Day nears and the death toll continues to climb in Iraq, most Democrats are united in our determination to extract our troops from Iraq safely and swiftly. As important as withdrawing our troops is how we care for the troops upon their return home. Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with retired veterans at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown about exactly that – how America should, and can, honor our veterans.
Most Americans agree that serving our country in the military ought to be honored with support after military service. Yet our current veteran support systems are not working as well as they should. We need changes in three vital areas: educational benefits for veterans, health benefits for veterans, and the funding process in Washington that provides support for veterans. If I have the opportunity to serve Iowa’s 4th District in Washington, I have outlined a plan, Honoring our Veterans, that promotes benefits and funding for veterans that I am committed to putting into action.
Educational Benefits. The first G.I. Bill was signed into law in 1944 by President Roosevelt and is out-of-date. Recognizing this problem, Senator James Webb of Virginia, with bipartisan support that includes principal co-sponsors Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia – both Republicans – as well as Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey have introduced a new G.I. Bill in the Senate. Education is a remarkably wise, long-term investment in the life of each and every young man or woman. As important, it is a wise, long-term investment in the future of our country. I strongly support Senator Webb’s efforts to expand educational benefits available to our veterans.
Health Care Benefits. Our VA healthcare system has been geared more toward visible, physical injuries than the signature injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Now the system is overwhelmed with the challenge of helping veterans with wounds more difficult to diagnose and more difficult to treat… in part because they can’t be seen. We must allocate more expertise and more resources to helping veterans overcome these invisible wounds, because we know that the demand for these specialized services will continue to rise.
Funding Source. Currently, VA healthcare is reliant on Congress and the President to pass a new law each year for the funds needed to treat veterans. For 12 of the past 13 fiscal years, VA funding has come through Continuing Resolutions, sometimes approved several months into the actual fiscal year. This impairs the VA’s ability to recruit and train staff, to contract for services, to plan and administer care programs. We need mandatory, long-term funding for VA healthcare, similar to our funding mechanism for Medicare.
Honoring Our Veterans is a conceptual outline that I will work hard to implement in Congress. Our brave men and women in uniform have served our country well, and it is imperative that we do the same for them.