We can best thank veterans by keeping promises

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 12, 2004

Each year, Veterans' Day gives our nation an opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who have selflessly served our nation.

While Memorial Day remembers those we have lost, Veterans' Day is an opportunity to thank those who are still with us.

At the time of the 2000 census, there were currently 26 million veterans living in the United States.

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But we all know that since the war on terrorism began, that number has grown significantly as the American military has engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As these soldiers return home from battle, a large number of them will require some level of medical care as a result of their service to our nation.

Sadly, the VA health care system is not well positioned to help these soldiers.

The resources needed to provide promised care for these veterans has not increased proportionately with the growing number of sick and injured veterans.

Despite the protestations of veterans' service organizations and a bipartisan group of Veteran's Affairs Committee Members, including Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), House leaders refuse to give the Veterans' Administration the resources it needs to provide adequate health care for all veterans.

The VA still needs more than $1 billion beyond what it is receiving to care for veterans, and Administration budget projections actually show a decrease in funding for VA health care in the 2006 budget.

This comes at a time when more than 30,000 veterans are waiting six months or more for an appointment at VA hospitals, and there are more than 148,000 veterans awaiting disability claim decisions.

In addition, Priority 8 veterans are still being shut out of the VA health care system while VA hospitals around the country are closing.

However, our work has not been without its share of successes.

We have been successful in adding long-overdue provisions to end the widow’s tax on survivor benefits, we’ve ended the disabled veterans' tax for the most severely disabled veterans, and we’ve made certain that all National Guard and Reservists called up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan can purchase TRICARE health care coverage for their families when they return home.

We have just come through an election season in which all political candidates tried hard to reach out to veterans and express their support for them.

Hopefully, this effort was sincere and will be reflected in a willingness by the Bush Administration and Congressional leaders to work with the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to keep our promises to veterans and provide them with the benefits they’ve been promised.

As a nation, we pray every day for the safe return of our soldiers. But once they come home, it is up to us to keep our promises to them.

As always, please let me know what you think about this and other important issues.

Congressman Ted Strickland is a U.S. Representative serving Lawrence County. Letters to Strickland should be mailed to 336 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515; or call: (202) 225-5705.