Op-ed by Senator Mark Pryor
November 11th honors the contributions of millions of veterans who proudly served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterans Day marks a day to honor the sacrifices of our men and women who gave willingly for our freedoms and security. It should also be a day to renew our commitment to honor America's promise to our veterans.
Public service has allowed me to meet veterans who once stormed the beaches of Normandy and more recently soldiers determined to bring peace to the streets of Baghdad. During a trip to Iraq last month, I was struck by the courage and dedication of Bill Nesbitt, a senior chief petty officer in the Navy, from Mountain View, AR. He is now serving his sixth tour in the region, putting his life on the line everyday as a bomb technician. To me, Bill demonstrates the valor common among all our soldiers and veterans, but he also represents the need for Congress to improve the benefits allocated to our soldiers when they return from duty and as they grow older. We must care for our veterans as they have cared for us.
First, we must make sure our veterans receive the benefits they earned. I am pleased Congress enacted the Veterans Benefit Outreach Act, legislation I introduced with Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to ensure that all veterans collect the benefits they are entitled to, but for whatever reason are not receiving. Nearly 600,000 veterans nationwide do not receive adequate health care, retirement or education benefits, often due to a simple lack of knowledge that they are eligible for them. This problem was expected to escalate as younger soldiers return from Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, instead of veterans having to cut through bureaucracy to learn about and receive the various benefits they earn, this new law seeks to bring the information to them.
Like generations before them, many Arkansas soldiers leave behind their families and good jobs to serve our nation. When they return, I believe they should be able to use their experience to build a better life for themselves and their families. My colleagues in the Senate agree, and passed my legislation, the Veterans Education and Training Act (VET Act), which expands benefits under the G.I. Bill to help veterans afford training programs for high-growth industries, such as trucking, construction, hospitality and energy. This measure will particularly benefit younger veterans, where the unemployment rate is nearly double that of non-veterans. I am hopeful the House of Representatives will better enable veterans to enter these good-paying career fields by passing the VET Act in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, I will continue to support measures that honor our veterans, and I will fight to provide better health care, retirement benefits and educational opportunities to our nation's heroes. I hope Arkansans will join me in thanking our veterans for their sacrifice and for the freedoms we all enjoy as a result.