Expressing Our Gratitude Is Just the Beginning
For some, it's tickertape parades or joyful airport reunions. For others, perhaps it's a simple handshake and "Thank you for your service" to a stranger who wears our country's uniform.
Whatever "giving thanks" means to you and me, offering our gratitude to the men and women of America's military, and their families who support them, is one way we pay tribute to their selfless service.
But expressing our gratitude is just the beginning of what we owe -- both as individuals and as a nation -- to our men and women in uniform. This is especially true at this critical moment when, in keeping with President Obama's promise to end the Iraq War, all of our troops once serving in Iraq have returned home. While some have paid the ultimate sacrifice, we look forward to honoring our commitment to those who are coming home.
It's why I co-sponsored the bipartisan G.I. Bill for the 21st Century, designed to provide the 1.7 million men and women who've served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan with educational opportunities on par with those provided to America's veterans of World War II. As I said at the time, "Not only will this 21st Century G.I. Bill strengthen our military, it will also make the heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan part of a new American economic recovery." As a companion to this bill, I also co-sponsored the Servicemembers Student Loan Interest Relief Act, which prevents interest from accruing on Federal Direct Loans for active-duty members of America's armed forces. And I have been proud to support pay raises and bonuses for our troops serving in combat and the military families who depend on them here at home.
So many of our veterans return home facing significant, sometimes unfathomable challenges to their physical and mental health. These men and women cared enough about our country and our freedoms to put their lives on the line; our country owes our veterans the health care and other services they've bravely earned upon their return home.
My commitment to veterans health care includes voting to increase compensation for veterans with service-based disabilities, including additional compensation for their dependants and families -- and compensation for the surviving spouses and children of veterans who pay the ultimate price for our freedom. Given the severe stresses of combat, I also voted for the Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, recognizing Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a grave challenge for our veteran, and ordering the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to implement a comprehensive suicide-prevention program. And when troubling reports surfaced about inadequate facilities and disturbing conditions at our nation's preeminent military hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center -- I joined many of my congressional colleagues in a letter to U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, demanding an independent assessment of President George W. Bush's plans to provide proper health care services to our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans while also continuing to care for veterans of previous wars.
In these challenging economic times, our men and women in uniform returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have been among the hardest hit. Transitioning to civilian life is difficult enough. That's why I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. By providing tax incentives that encourage private businesses to hire our veterans, we’re helping businesses get well-qualified employees and keeping our commitment to those who have sacrificed most for America. Passing this bill was not only an act of constructive bipartisanship -- it was a necessary act of patriotism, helping ensure our newest veterans contribute their unique talents to rebuilding America's economy.
In Congress, I have also taken up the cause of Hawaii's Filipino veterans, fighting to reunify Filipino veterans' families and insist that Filipino veterans who fought in World War II receive the benefits other U.S. veterans have earned.
America's men and women in uniform have not only earned our deep gratitude, but also our deepest support. A profound obligation to our veterans, our military, and their families guides my work in Congress -- and I would be honored to carry that solemn commitment to the United States Senate.