Congressman Bob Filner's Congressional Update
Let's Support Our Troops--When They Come Home!
I recently spent a week in the War zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. I traveled with Secretary Jim Nicholson, Department of Veterans' Affairs, to Iraq, to follow the path of wounded soldiers from the time they are wounded on the battlefield, their medical evacuation to forward based hospitals, to the major hospital in Germany, and back to the United States. I was tremendously impressed by the capability, professionalism and heroism of our Nation's service members. Their capacity to work together was especially impressive, and I could not help but feel that our legislators could learn a lot from these courageous young men and women.
I kept thinking, these soldiers are being asked to make incredible sacrifices for a failed policy. This is not their fight. We have placed them in the middle of a Civil War with sectarian forces willing to target anyone through any means to gain power. I voted against authorization of the use of U.S. Armed Forces against Iraq, in October of 2002, and I have consistently expressed my disapproval of the Bush Administration's handling of the war. I have long believed that the War in Iraq is the product of misguided policy, which has failed miserably and should be reversed immediately.
However, I lived through the Vietnam era, and I saw our Nation make a terrible mistake in confusing the War and the Warriorto this day, Vietnam veterans suffer from the mistakes that we made. I would like you to keep two facts in mind, which clearly identify the degree of our failure. Half of the homeless on America's streets today are Vietnam veterans. Even more devastating is the fact that more Vietnam Veterans have now died from suicide than actually died from enemy action during the war. As Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, I have dedicated myself to ensuring that we never make that horrific mistake again, and I will fight to ensure that our troops receive the care, honor and respect that they deserve. If we can fund the war, we must be prepared to pay for the warriors. Caring for our veterans is a cost of war and a continuing cost of our national defense.
I have spearheaded this effort in Washington, and I know that Congress is behind me. No matter how we feel about the War, Congress is united to ensure that the troops are taken care of when they return. I recently added over 13 billion dollars to the Department of Veterans' Affairs budgetthis is a 30 percent increase over last year, and this funding will be used to care for our veterans, whatever their illness.
This is not a small war, and the scope of the problem is larger than most realize. President Bush has attempted to keep the true cost of the war from the general population. However, there are already more than 600,000 veterans from the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, more severely injured troops are surviving this war than ever before. During WWII, the ratio of wounded to dead was about 1 to 1; in Vietnam and Korea, the ratio was about 3 to 1; In Iraq, the ratio is about 16 wounded to every 1 soldier who dies. This is a blessing for our nation, as they are a group of remarkable, honorable young men and women, who will be welcomed home as heroes, but many suffer from injuries that require costly, long-term care. The two conditions that are being called the "signature injuries" of this war are Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The extent of these conditions, especially when suffered simultaneously, is unknown. It is of the utmost importance that the returning men and women are diagnosed early and accurately, to ensure adequate treatment. We need to make sure that these troops are welcomed home and provided with the best care possible.
As George Washington said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." We cannot fail in supporting our troops who are doing their utmost to support us!
A Victory for Deceased POWs and Their Families
I am pleased to announce that my bill, Honor Our Fallen Prisoners of War, to present a posthumous Purple Heart to the families of POWs who had previously been overlooked, has been approved for implementation by the United States Department of Defense (DoD).
Currently, only POWs who die during their imprisonment, of wounds inflicted by an instrument of war, are eligible for posthumous Purple Heart recognition. Those who die of starvation, disease, abuse or other causes while imprisoned are not eligible. This distinction is arbitrary, and it does not make any sense. My bill corrects this injustice. Every soldier who dies while imprisoned by an enemy of war should be recognized and honored!
My bill was included as a section in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2007, which passed in October of 2006 and directed the President and the DoD to review the criteria used to determine eligibility for the award of the Purple Heart for POWs. The review has been completed, and the report has been released to Chairman Ike Skelton of the House Armed Services Committee and to Chairman Carl Levin of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The report says that changing the eligibility criteria for the Purple Heart has merit for POWs who die while in captivity and who are eligible for the Prisoner-of-War Medal, which includes virtually all POWs.
Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the companion bill in the Senate. The inspiration for the bill came from Wilbert "Shorty" Estabrook of Selma, Texas, who was imprisoned during the Korean War for over three years, and Rick and Brenda Tavares of Campo, California. Brenda's uncle, Corporal Melvin Morgan, died of starvation and beatings in 1950 at the age of 20 in Korea.
The Federal Government Should Help Solve Border Air Pollution!
I have recently introduced H.R. 3365, the Foreign Air Impact Regulation (FAIR) Air Act. The FAIR Air Act would stop communities located near international borders from being penalized for not meeting air quality standards due to foreign air sources.
My bill would provide these areas, which failed the air quality standards due to foreign emissions, with federal help to develop and implement bi-national plans to improve air quality.
The federal governments must work together to improve air quality. Our communities should not be penalized for living near international borders. Air pollution does not stop at national boundaries!
Introducing the Military Environmental Responsibility Act
Recently, I introduced the Military Environmental Responsibility Act (H.R. 3366). The bill would waive environmental sovereign immunity for the Department of Defense and force the military to comply with Federal and State environmental laws.
Late last year, the San Diego Naval Base piped more than 14 million gallons of raw sewage into the San Diego Bay. However, the Department of Defense did not have to pay any fines due to sovereign immunity.
Communities bordering military bases have less environmental protection than other cities in the nation just because they are hosts to the U.S. military. Until the Department of Defense is forced to comply with our country's environmental laws, public health and safety will be at increased risk from military pollution.
Sponsoring the Social Security Number Privacy and Identity Theft Prevention Act
I am proud to be a co-sponsor of H.R. 3046, the Social Security Number Privacy and Identity Theft Prevention Act. The bill would restrict the sale, purchase, and public display of Social Security numbers. H.R. 3046 targets data brokering companies who buy and sell Social Security numbers and other consumer information with little regulation or oversight.
Identity theft is a growing epidemic in our nation. Our Social Security numbers are being over-used and under-protected! By allowing data brokers to operate with little to no regulation, we leave our identities, and our livelihood, open to fraud and deceit. We must ensure that all companies are protecting our identities!
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. To find out more about identity theft and the steps you and your family can take to prevent it, please visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
Restoring Humanitarian Visas
I am also proud to introduce H.R. 3270, the Visitors Interested in Strengthening America (VISA) Act. My bill would grant humanitarian visa waivers to children and their parents coming across the border for regular medical appointments or for educational or cultural events. The bill would give Port Directors the discretion to issue humanitarian visa waivers to Mexican children making brief, pre-scheduled visits to the United States for medical, educational or recreational purposes.
This legislation would not affect the number of legal or illegal immigrants living in the United Statesthe children and accompanying adults visit for one day and then return to their homes. It gives Port Directors the authority to use their discretion and issue waivers to children that pose no security threat to our country.
Turning away school field trips and kids with doctors' appointments does not give us the secure and efficient border we need. Port Directors have the experience and discretion necessary to make these judgments, and we should not restrict their ability to do their jobs.
Since September 11, Port Directors have stopped issuing these visa waivers. As a result, children have been blocked from receiving specialized medical attention, participating in educational exchanges between border schools, and taking field trips to tourist sites across the border.