My dad taught me many lessons throughout my childhood. He, of course, always told us to be polite, stand up straight, look people in the eye and tell the truth. But Dad was veteran of World War II, so he never passed up an opportunity to make sure we understood the sacrifices of those who served.
I'll never forget standing next to my dad as a little girl and seeing a service member in uniform. He told us early and often that we should always go up to any man or woman in uniform and thank them for their service. It was a value that he was taught by his parents, and it's something I hope I have been able to teach my own children.
My dad passed away a long time ago, but if he were still with us I know Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 would have been a sad day for him, as it was for me. That was the day we marked a milestone in Afghanistan -- but not one we ever wanted to reach. One thousand of our brave men and women in uniform have given their lives for their country in Afghanistan. In Missouri alone, we have lost 108 brave service members in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Just two weeks before Memorial Day, it serves as a solemn reminder to all Americans of the sacrifices that service members and their families endure everyday to protect our great country. And for me, it serves as a reminder of that important lesson my dad taught me to honor those who have served.
There are many things that make our country great, but the men and women who have fought for our rights and liberties are among the greatest. They risked their lives and heroically often gave their lives. A critical part of my job is to make sure Congress continues to show the nation's gratitude to these men and women and their families by keeping our promises to them.
My dad would have been proud of some of the victories we've had in recent years to help our service members and veterans. Congress is finally providing the Veterans Administration with adequate funding to meet the needs of our veteran population - last year's budget represented a 58% increase in funding since January 2007. This year, President Obama's proposed budget is the largest veterans' budget in history. I'm doing my best to tighten the purse strings in Washington, but I think most Americans agree that veterans care is not the place we should pinch pennies.
I'm lucky to be a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has given me an opportunity to keep a close eye on policy related to our active duty military. After the conditions we saw at Walter Reed Medical Center in 2007, just a month after I arrived in Washington, I knew we needed to change the way we approach care for those who are returning from combat. We've made some progress since 2007 with the passage of the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, but there's more to be done.
In recent years, we have seen a worrisome increase in mental health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and suicide among our men and women in uniform. In fact, a whistleblower at Fort Leonard Wood contacted my office to expose the chronic understaffing in the Army's Substance Abuse Program, prompting me to introduce and ultimately win passage of new legislation to fix the problem and make sure there is no shortage of mental health care for our soldiers. I'm still working on this issue, and I don't plan to back down.
Lastly, I am always fighting to get our troops, veterans and their families the benefits they deserve. I was a cosponsor of the Post-9/11 GI bill, which allows unprecedented educational benefits for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. Thousands of Missouri veterans are now taking advantage of this great program.
This Memorial Day, I look forward to spending precious time with my family, but I'll particularly be thinking about my dad and all the other men and women who serve and have served our country - and in particular the many who have given their lives in that service. I know that they have all Missourians' enduring respect, thanks and prayers, just as they have mine.