RIDGEWOOD, NJ - Today, Monday, November 11, 2019, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) honored Veterans Day and all those who have served, delivered remarks at Ridgewood’s Veterans Day Services with American Legion Post 53, and advocated for better veteran care.

Gottheimer spoke alongside Ridgewood Mayor Ramon Hache, Post Commander Bob Paoli, Legionnaire Ed Houlihan, and Fifth District students. The service included speeches from veterans, Ridgewood Elementary students, and a ceremony by the Ridgewood Police Department color guard.  

“One of my bedrock responsibilities is to always have the backs of those who’ve had ours. There is nothing more solemn. Nothing more sacred in the oath that I’ve taken,” Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) said today. “These are not red or blue issues – they are red, white, and blue. I’ve been proud to work across the aisle in Congress on ways to improve veterans’ benefits and care. Of course, our fight for our democracy and our veterans is far from over, there is much more to be done, and I will never stop fighting for our veterans. After sacrificing and struggling for so much, our veterans and their families should never struggle to get the care or recognition you so rightfully deserve.”

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During this Congress, Gottheimer has helped lead several initiatives to fight for North Jersey’s veterans:

 

  • Congressman Gottheimer is working with New Jersey’s VA Director to lower wait times and drive times for veterans; boost access to closer doctors, hospitals, and other facilities; create a female veteran-focused clinic in New Jersey; and increase mental health care access in Newton and Bergen.
  • The House passed Congressman Gottheimer’s bipartisan legislation to invest in filling the more than 49,000 vacant positions at the VA.
  • The House passed Congressman Gottheimer’s bipartisan legislation to increase investment for the Veterans Health Administration to specifically hire more mental health professionals.
  • Congressman Gottheimer cosponored and helped pass H.R. 299 - the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, on a 410 to zero vote, to extend disability benefits covering medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam, known as "Blue Water" Navy veterans. The President signed this bill into law this year.
  • Congressman Gottheimer presented Tuskegee Airmen Bronze Medal to 100-year-old veteran Private Roscoe Draper at his home in Westwood.

Thank you to everyone for being here today as we honor the brave men and women who have proudly served and protected our nation. To all our service members, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for putting your life on the line to defend our freedom, our liberties, and the greatest democracy the world has ever seen. 

There is no commitment more sacred than the one our nation has to those who have served – and to always remember those who, as Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Lincoln also reminded us to always honor all those who, as he said, “bravely bears his country’s cause.”

As an elected official, one of my bedrock responsibilities is to always have the backs of those who’ve had ours. There is nothing more solemn. Nothing more sacred in the oath that I’ve taken. 

That’s why on this Veterans Day, as we pledge allegiance to our flag, I ask that every American pause for an extra moment, remember how blessed we are to breathe the air of freedom, and to remember that our generation stands on the shoulders of the giants who came before us – who fought for our country’s cause.  It’s something that can easily be overshadowed by our daily routines, and the rancor of social media and cable news. But we must not let it.

When we see a veteran, or a first responder, we should always thank them for their service – and ask our children to do the same. For what they did to allow our businesses and families to prosper, to practice the religion we choose, to speak out freely on the street corner.  They deserve our respect and gratitude.

When you stand with and get to know our veterans, and hear their stories, you get a better understanding of what they have sacrificed to protect our nation. Regardless of party or political views, this is something each and every one of us can do – not just on Veterans Day, but every day.  You see, the battlefield doesn’t require allegiance to party. It demands allegiance to country, to bedrock values, to the fifty stars.

For me, in my capacity as your congressman, I’m especially lucky to have spent time with so many of our bravest veterans. Earlier this morning, I visited CareOne in Paramus and met with Army Air Corps veteran Michael Diederich who served during World War II. He completed 35 missions over Germany as a bombardier and nose gunner in a B24 bomber. He’s celebrating his 102nd birthday later this month. I presented him with the U.S. Army’s bicentennial coin. It was an honor and privilege to get to hear his story, and to thank him for his service.

In July, I met 100-year-old Roscoe Draper, who shared with me his time as an instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen. I presented Private Draper with a congressional medal, recognizing his service. Private Draper’s story was particularly moving because, for most of their lives, his family thought he was a civilian instructor, until during a stop at the DMV, a document indicated Private Draper’s service to our country.

Earlier in the summer, I met another World War II veteran in Sussex – Walter Atchison -- who was 102-years-old and took part in the D-Day invasion at Normandy. And, nearly every week, I have been honored to thank a veteran who served in Korea or Vietnam or after 9/11. 

It is our duty as Americans not only to honor these men and women, but to do everything we can to fight for them when they return, to ensure they have the care they need, the benefits they were promised, and the support we all owe them.

After all of you have sacrificed through your service, we must always fight for you.

Earlier this year, I helped lead bipartisan legislation to address the staff vacancy crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs — especially in veterans’ mental health care. There are nearly 49,000 empty positions throughout the entire VA system, leaving our veterans to face long wait times, canceled appointments, and, ultimately, subpar care. My legislation invests in filling these vacant roles throughout the VA and increases investment in hiring more mental health professionals.

These are not red or blue issues – they are red, white, and blue. I’ve been proud to work across the aisle in Congress on ways to improve veterans’ benefits and care. Earlier this year, legislation that I cosponsored, passed the House on a vote of 410 to zero. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act will extend disability benefits covering medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam, known as "Blue Water" Navy veterans. I was pleased that the President signed this bill into law earlier this year and these veterans are getting the benefits they deserve.

And here in northern New Jersey, I’m working with New Jersey’s VA Director to see what can be done to lower wait times and drive times for veterans heading to their appointments in every county in represent … how to boost access to closer doctors, hospitals, and other facilities …  making sure we’re prioritizing veteran women’s care, and improving mental health care in our state.

I also work every day to ensure that our armed forces and active duty have what they need to combat terror and nations who seek to do us harm.

Of course, our fight for our democracy and our veterans is far from over, and there is much more to be done for you, and I will never stop fighting for you.  I want to impress upon everyone here that my door is always open for any issues that you may have. After sacrificing and struggling for so much, you and your families should never struggle to get the care or recognition you so rightfully deserve.

So, on this Veterans Day, I salute you and I thank you for everything that you have done, because here in the greatest country in the world, we will always take care of our own. That’s the only way to ensure that our best days will always be ahead of us,

God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.