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Biweekly Column (Honoring Our Veterans)

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Honoring Our Veterans

By: Congressman Lamar Smith

November 11 is Veterans Day. On this day the nation pauses to remember and honor those who served in the United States military.

Freedom is not free. It's because of our veterans' sacrifices that we enjoy the liberties we have today. Veterans Day gives us time to reflect on those contributions and thank them for their service.

But our gratitude must go beyond words. We demonstrate our appreciation in a tangible way when we keep our promise to provide veterans with affordable, efficient health care.

Congress has a long way to go in fulfilling this promise, but I am glad to report progress has been made. Over the last 10 years, we have nearly doubled federal funding for veterans' programs. In the last two years alone, we increased veterans' heath care spending by 18 percent.

One of the most encouraging developments happened this May, when the House passed the "Military Quality of Life Appropriations Act." This legislation provides more than $94 billion for military quality of life programs and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Within that overall figure, $25.4 billion was included for veterans' medical services, an increase of $2.6 billion over the previous year.

Our soldiers aren't the only ones making sacrifices. Their families sacrifice as well. That is why Congress passed the "Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act," which increases the rate of veterans' disability compensation, provides additional compensation for their dependents, and provides indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children.

These are positive steps in the right direction. But there is much work left to do.

One specific area that needs improvement is the TRICARE program. This year Congress provided increased funding for TRICARE, including mental health service programs. In September, Congress passed the "National Defense Authorization Act," which protects veterans from increased TRICARE premiums until 2008. This will allow the House Armed Services Committee to review recommendations from an independent task force for sustaining the future benefits of military healthcare and to minimize the financial impact on those under the age of 65.

If you are a veteran experiencing problems with your government benefits, my office is available to help you find the answers you need. We will contact the appropriate agency to inquire about the case and attempt to find a solution. Please call my office at (512) 402-9743.

Another source of information on veterans' benefits is available through the Department of Veterans Affairs (DAV) website. By logging onto http://www.vba.va.gov/, you can access information about veterans' compensation, pensions, education loans, home loans, survivor benefits and pharmacy benefits.

The website also has a section for parents and educators looking for ways to teach children about the importance of Veterans Day. These tools are available at http://www1.va.gov/opa/feature/celebrate/index.asp.

The DAV even has a special website dedicated to helping returning active duty personnel. The site helps returning soldiers transition to civilian life by identifying which benefits and programs are available to them. You can access this website by logging onto to http://www.seamlesstransition.va.gov/.

Be assured that I will continue to work on your behalf to ensure that those who served our nation receive the health care and other benefits they were promised.

http://lamarsmith.house.gov/News.asp?FormMode=Detail&ID=858

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