On Memorial Day Americans pay tribute, honor and remember those who have served our country bravely and sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom and democracy. Across the country we will honor our fallen heroes over the coming days at picnics, county fairs and town parades.
We not only memorialize those gone but we give thanks to the more than 20 million American veterans still alive today. These brave service members have made significant sacrifices and we have an obligation to honor them by "keeping the promise" to our men and women in uniform.
To this end I am proud that Congress has passed a number of important measures that address the needs, services and care required of our veterans and their families.
The U.S. House recently passed the “American Heroes COLA Act” that would make cost-of-living adjustments for veterans’ benefits automatic rather than subject to congressional approval. Instead of subjecting these benefits to the unpredictability of congressional action, this bill provides veterans with greater certainty that they will receive the benefits they have earned through their service.
Job creation and economic issues are also important to veterans and their families. All too often those who have given so much to the Nation face a difficult transition to civilian life and struggle to find a job that matches their talents.
With a national unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans ages 20 to 24 is 19 percent, it is imperative that we bolster existing job training programs for returning military veterans and make it easier for them to find good-paying jobs.
That's why I am proud to have voted for the "Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act" that allows returning vets to use the educational benefit that they would otherwise expend on college for on-the-job training. The measure requires the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs to promote the program and it boosts the incentives for employers to hire veterans and increase the availability of apprenticeship programs to help veterans make the transition to the workforce.
One of the great honors of my job as Congressman is assisting individuals who need help with federal agencies – including veterans and their families who need assistance in obtaining long overdue, lost or stolen service medals, in some cases posthumously. These awards, and the men and women who have earned them are worthy of the utmost respect and sanctity.
But there are a handful of persons who benefit from not telling the truth about receiving one of these awards. This is an affront to all who have worn the uniform and especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. That's why I voted for the "Stolen Valor Act" that would make it a crime to benefit knowingly from false statements about receiving certain military awards.
While I am proud of what Congress has accomplishment in a bipartisan capacity on behalf of veterans and their families, much more still needs to be done.
The VA has almost one million disability and compensation claims pending, including more than 610,000 older than 125 days and about 250,000 claims at least one year old, according to VA records and statements. It is essential that we address the unacceptably large backlog of claims in order to get veterans the benefits they've earned as quickly as possible.
In an effort to reduce the backlog dramatically I have authored bipartisan legislation with Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York that would strengthen accountability at the Veterans' Administration by requiring annual reports on the agency’s regional offices that fail to meet the target of processing claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. In the reports the agency would be required to explain why it did not meet a specific goal and ask for the resources it needs to meet the goal.
Rest assured I am committed to reducing the VA claims backlog effectively and efficiently by whatever means necessary.
On behalf of my wife Heidi and me, we'd like to wish everyone a safe and happy Memorial Day.
Without the brave sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, we would not enjoy the freedoms we have today. As you enjoy traditional Memorial Day activities with friends and family, please take a moment to remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.