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November 11, 2009
Today, Americans on the South and Central Coasts and across the country will pause to pay tribute to 24 million veterans who have served our country. Our nation’s debt to their sacrifices and those of their families cannot be overstated.
On this Veterans Day, we continue to be engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where too many men and women have paid the ultimate price while wearing the uniform of our nation. Today, we remember and honor the 4,300 Americans who have died in Iraq and nearly 900 who have died in Afghanistan. We also honor the sacrifices of our wounded: more than 31,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 4,300 in Afghanistan.
As we honor their patriotism and bravery, I’m proud that my colleagues and I in Congress remain committed to their success. During this economic crisis, Congress has enacted critical measures to expand educational opportunity and economic relief. The new Post 9-11 GI Bill, which began in August, provides the opportunity for a full, four-year college education, allowing up to 2 million warriors of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to be part of a new American economic recovery, just like after World War II. Veterans coming home are facing double digit unemployment, so this Congress has enacted incentives for businesses to hire unemployed veterans. 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, placing great strain on their families and substantial cost to their financial futures. In response, Congress provided special $500 payments for the 185,000 service members and veterans forced to serve under stop-loss orders since 2001. Congress also has taken steps to reduce the backlog and waits for veterans trying to access their earned benefits.
This year, we are increasing military pay 3.4 percent and expanding TRICARE health benefits. We are building more military child care centers and better barracks and military family housing. Congress also provided family leave benefits for families of our wounded warriors. With hundreds of thousands of service members deployed overseas, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan today, this recognition of the sacrifice that military families make every day has never been more important. That is why we are paying special tribute to them during Military Family Month.
As a registered nurse, I am particularly pleased this Congress has made an unprecedented commitment to veterans’ health care. With this year’s budget, we have increased the investment in veterans’ health care and services by 60 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 the addition of 17,000 new doctors and nurses, and more Community-Based Outpatient Clinics and new Vet Centers. This funding also is expanding mental health screening and treatment, vital to the many veterans suffering from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Politics and partisanship should never be a factor in our support for American veterans or troops. On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. This day and every day, let it be our pledge as a nation that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.