* Ensuring that our troops have the equipment and support they need to achieve their missions safely and effectively and return to their families as soon as possible.
* Working to provide the best benefits possible for our veterans and current uniformed service members, as well as their families who have made courageous sacrifices on behalf of our nation.
All Americans owe a debt of gratitude to our country's bravest individuals -- those who have served and given their lives in defense of freedom and liberty. The well-being and long-term health of America's servicemen and women is among my top priorities in Congress, and I will continue to work hard to provide the best care possible for our veterans and current uniformed service members. With increases in funding over the past few years, we have made great progress in providing for our current military servicemen and women and for our veterans.
The brave Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines who are serving in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and their families back home, have made tremendous personal sacrifices in order to make the world a safer place. I am grateful to our troops for their service, and I am working to provide them with the equipment they need to achieve their missions safely and effectively and return to their families as soon as possible. In addition, Congress must also ensure that the families of these courageous individuals are supported and cared for while their loved ones are away.
I recently showed my support for the troops by voting in favor of the final version of the FY2009 Defense Authorization this past May. I was proud to support a bill with the following provisions: a significant pay raise for our military and provides our military with updated equipment; the allowance for service members to take sabbaticals from active service for up to three years and return with no loss of rank or time-in-service; a rejection in increases in TRICARE fees; and a prohibition to using funds to construct permanent bases in Iraq. I will continue to support our troops on ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, without restricting our commanders on the ground with artificial surrender dates as the House Majority had previously sought to do. Rather than playing politics with the troops, I will continue working to provide our troops with the tools, equipment, and supplies they need to complete their mission and return home as soon as possible.
I will continue to advocate on behalf of our veterans, which I believe is one of the most important responsibilities of the federal government. With increased funding for mental health facilities and increased health care access for veterans living in rural areas, I am pleased the House was able to make significant progress in securing veterans' health benefits. Much work remains in ensuring that those that have given themselves to our nation's defense are given their much deserved gratitude and benefits, and I remain committed to our veterans.