I sincerely wish you and your loved ones all the best during this holiday season. I look forward to working with the Obama Administration to create change and ensure a bright future for all Americans. I am also honored to have the opportunity to serve as your representative in Washington. Please do not hesitate to contact me about what's on your mind. I look forward to hearing from you!
My electronic newsletters will update you about my work on Capitol Hill and Congressional events that will affect you and your family. You can also access this information, complete with relevant links and pictures, through my website at http://www.house.gov/filner/enews.
Thank you for everything you do for our community. Please keep in touch!
Veterans Day: Putting Our Troops & Veterans First
Each November, Americans come together to remember our veterans who have served the nation, often at great risk, and those who we have lost for the cause of our freedom. The debt owed to 24 million American veterans is immeasurable. Their sacrifices, and those of our military families, are freedom's foundation. Indeed, without the brave efforts of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families, our country would not stand so strong, shine so brightly, and live so freely.
On this Veterans Day, we are a nation waging war on two fronts. Let us support and pay tribute to our courageous troops currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe, who are the veterans of tomorrow. We honor the more than 4,000 Americans who have died in Iraq, as well as the 600 who have died in Afghanistan. We also honor the wounded: more than 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 2,500 in Afghanistan.
To honor our troops and veterans, Congress has enacted a new GI Bill for a full, four-year education, to make the warriors of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan part of a new American economic recovery, just like after World War II. To compete in a global economy and prepare our service members for future success, this action is long past due. Current benefits pay only about 60 percent of a public college education. Many of our troops have served multiple tours of duty, with great strain on their families and often at a cost to their financial futures. The original GI Bill launched millions of families on a course of prosperity - toward achieving the American Dream! - and set the American economy on the right path after a draining war.
With the support of all of the major veterans organizations, the New Direction Congress has made an unprecedented commitment to veterans health care. Last year, we enacted the largest increase in veterans' health care in our nation's history, strengthening health care for more than 5 million veterans and adding over $16 billion for veterans' health care and services over two years. Under Democratic leadership, Congress did more to increase veterans' funding in the last two years than it did in the last 12 years under Republican leadership. This investment is critical to meeting the needs of the 333,275 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan this year alone and to the estimated 300,000 troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from mental health problems and Traumatic Brain Injury. Returning veterans will need better care to successfully rebuild their lives here at home. We also enacted the Wounded Warriors Assistance Act to address the revelations of problems and gaps in care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military health care facilities.
The New Direction Congress is also strengthening our military and addressing the worst U.S. military readiness crisis since the Vietnam War. The bipartisan defense authorization bill will boost our current force strength, greatly improve our military readiness and help ensure that we provide the best training, equipment, and deployment conditions for the men and women serving in our Armed Forces. The bill provides $8.6 billion to address the Army's equipment reset requirements in FY 2009, $1.8 billion to address the equipment reset needs of the Marine Corps, and $800 million beyond the President's request for the procurement of critical, high-priority equipment for the National Guard and Reserve, to deal with equipment shortages for active duty troops and the National Guard and Reserve.
Under Democratic leadership, Congress is also keeping our promises to our troops and their families. We increased military pay by 3.9 percent - more than the President's request; preserved and strengthened health benefits for service members and retirees by preventing TRICARE health care fee increases on our troops; and created new preventative health care initiatives for military families.
In the next Congress, we will redouble our efforts to strengthen our military, support our troops and their families, and provide services to our veterans worthy of their sacrifices and valor. On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. Let it be our pledge as a nation that, when they return home, we leave no veteran behind
Re-elected Chair of House Vets Committee
In November, the Democratic Caucus voted to re-elect me as Chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. I will serve my second term as Chairman in the upcoming 111th Congress, which begins on January 6, 2009.
I am grateful to my Democratic colleagues for supporting me as Chair of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. It is truly an honor and a privilege to serve our nation's veterans and I appreciate the support of the Caucus.
We made significant progress in caring for our veterans over the past two years, but much remains to be done. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new way. And the mental health of our veterans - both old and new - must remain a high priority.
I am looking forward to working with a dynamic new Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Obama Administration to achieve these aims.
Pleased with President-Elect Obama's Pick of General Shinseki to Run the Department of Veteran Affairs
I applaud the nomination of General Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. His past leadership as Chief of Staff in the Army coupled with his brave service as a four-star general will bring a new energy to the Department and bring hope to our veterans.
The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans - from every conflict and each generation - must remain a high priority.
I look forward to working with General Shinseki and the Obama Administration to restore the sacred trust with our nation's veterans and provide the care and benefits our veterans deserve