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Let#039;s remember and keep commitments to veterans

While our nation is at war, there are very few Americans who need to be reminded that July 4th is about more than family, fireworks and cookouts; it’s about celebrating the birth of our nation and the beginning of a new form of Democracy which has served as a shining example for the world.

During times of war, we are reminded – both visually and emotionally – of the terrible cost that is paid by the men and women of our Armed Forces who have volunteered to protect and defend that freedom.

In the Iraq war alone, we have lost more than 1,700 honorable soldiers who were courageously serving a grateful nation.

But this war has also produced more than 13,000 wounded soldiers, many of whom have returned to the United States for care and treatment in the military and Veterans Administration health care systems.

Sadly, last week the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that its budget for this year will be $1 billion short.

That announcement was followed days later by the announcement that their budget for next year is expected to be short by more than twice that amount.

These announcements are the product of a Department and an Administration that, for years, has put budgetary gimmickry and rhetoric ahead of fulfilling promises made to America’s veterans.

For far too long, the Bush Administration has insisted that the VA had all the resources it needed to complete its mission and service to America’s veterans.

I have little doubt that Congress will rise to the occasion and see to it that the VA has the funds it needs to provide the health care and other services to our nations’ veterans that they deserve and that were promised to them.

But this shortfall need not have happened.

For the last two years, Democrats and fair-minded Republicans worked together to increase funding for the VA.

But for the last two years, the Administration has rebuffed these efforts and tried to save a dime by shortchanging veterans programs.

To prevent this from happening, I have joined a group of my peers on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in calling for mandatory funding for VA health care.

Passing this legislation would take politics and partisanship out of the VA funding process, protect veterans’ health care from budgetary shell games, and make sure our veterans receive the comprehensive care they were promised when they entered into service for the United States.

As last week’s announcements prove, even health care for the brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces can fall victim to a penny wise and pound foolish budgetary process.

We owe it to these brave, selfless soldiers to prevent it from ever happening again.

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland represents the Ohio's Sixth District which includes Lawrence County. He can be reached by writing to: Congressman Ted Strickland, 336 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515; or by calling (202) 225-5705.