Serving those who proudly servedPublished 6:40pm Saturday, March 1, 2014
By Rep. Randy Forbes
Our military veterans are often remarkable for not seeking any special attention for what they have contributed to this country. They have a quiet humility about them; they are happy to blend into their communities. Sometimes a small pin on a lapel is the only way to know when we are in their presence.
Our nation is overwhelmingly thankful for our veterans’ service. I see it when a mom stops to introduce her son to a veteran at the grocery store while explaining he is an American hero. I see it when the businessman, weary from weeks of travel, offers his first class seat to a wounded warrior. I see it when a young person asks to interview his elderly neighbor next door for his class paper on Veterans Day. I see it when a stadium of fans rises to their feet to cheer for the men and women who have returned home to our country.
However, our government is falling short, struggling to support the 22 million veterans who supported our nation through sacrifice and service.
Cuts included in last year’s budget agreement prevented a full cost-of-living increase for military retirees of working age.
For those veterans who have transitioned home and need services provided through the Veterans Administration, there is national backlog. More than half a million of our nation’s heroes are still waiting for the benefits they were promised. While approximately 58 percent of veterans’ appeals are backlogged, two-thirds of employees at the VA received bonuses totaling roughly $5.5 million at the end of 2011 for “excellent” or “outstanding” performance.
Many veterans’ hospitals fall short of excellent standards due to lack of stable budgeting and oversight. Veterans’ hospitals are three times more overcrowded than non-veterans’ hospitals, and many veterans must drive long distances to reach the nearest VA hospital to receive care.
Our government is failing on its promises, and we have a lot of work to do to catch up. Our service members have made extraordinary sacrifices for this country and, while we can never begin to fully repay them, our government has a duty to do our utmost to serve them once they come home. Our government should be setting the example.
To show we are fully committed to our veterans, certain things must happen. We must provide uncompromised care, excellence in hospital care and benefits without strings. Our veterans deserve quality care, and that means having ready access to care.
We must refuse to allow VA employees to accept bonuses until the claims backlog is cleared. We must refuse to place the burden of our fiscal challenges on the backs of our service members; defense spending in support of our men and women in uniform is not the cause of our fiscal woes, and cutting the benefits earned by our brave service members is not the solution.
We should offer in-state tuition to our veterans, regardless of where they live. The men and women who serve this nation did not just defend citizens of their own home states but the citizens of all 50 states.
Most important, we must ask ourselves how we can strengthen and empower our warriors after they return home.
I have made it a point to ask myself that question throughout my time in Congress. That’s why I championed a veterans’ outpatient clinic in Emporia that provides access to care for rural veterans. It’s one of the reasons I staunchly opposed sequestration. That’s why I’ve pressed the VA on its backlog and the bonuses it gave employees. That’s why I supported reversing the cost of living cuts that were included in last year’s budget agreement, for those who enlisted or received commissions prior to Jan. 1, 2014.
That’s why, most recently, I supported the G.I. Bill Tuition Fairness Act, a bipartisan bill that would enable G.I. Bill recipients to receive in-state tuition rates at any public college or university in the country.
Veterans are a part of our lives by the freedoms we enjoy every day as Americans. We are grateful for their service to our country. It should be our privilege as a government to honor the commitments we have made to them and to strengthen their quality of life after they have returned home.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.