Since my first days in Congress, I have promised to leave no veteran behind and every day I work to fulfill that promise. Our soldiers serve with honor and when they come home, they deserve the best we can offer. With our country involved in two conflicts overseas and the largest deployment of Wisconsin National Guard troops since World War II, it is as critical as ever to support veterans' programs and services.
GI Bill for the 21st Century
In 1944 the original GI Bill allowed millions of families to enter the middle class and set the American economy on the right course. In 2008, Congress renewed its commitment to our veterans by passing the GI Bill for the 21st Century. I voted for this landmark legislation which provides a four-year college scholarship to veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, on par with the benefits provided to veterans after WWII. Veterans can applying for a certificate of eligibility for the new college benefits here. These benefits officially started on August 1, 2009 and are available to an estimated 2.1 million veterans. In addition, Congress recently extended those college benefits to all children of fallen soldiers since 9/11 with no minimum military service needed to qualify.
Supporting our Veterans
Having traveled around western Wisconsin and visited Iraq four times and Afghanistan twice, I have heard from a number of the Wisconsinites currently serving in our nation's armed forces. It has become very clear that in these challenging economic times we must do more to provide for the basic needs of our troops and veterans. This Congress, we've continued to build on a significant record of accomplishment for current and former service members -- including historic investments to strengthen veterans' health care and improve care for those with PTSD.
In fact, I authored two commonsense bills to provide fair and equal treatment for our nation's veterans and military. H.R. 2562, The Service Members Home Ownership Act, extends the first-time home buyers tax credit for members of the United States military currently serving overseas to May 2011. The major provisions of this bill were included in H.R. 3548, The Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act, which was signed into law in November 2009. I also authored the Help Student Soldiers Act, H.R. 2561, which gives students who must withdraw from college due to a call to active duty the ability to absolve student loans for the semester they are unable to finish.
In addition, I am also a proud supporter of these bills that recently passed in the House of Representatives:
* End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2010 (H.R. 4810) -- Strengthens successful comprehensive programs for homeless veterans, requires each VA medical center with housing services to generate more housing opportunities for veterans, strengthens permanent housing programs, and pays special attention to the needs of homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.
* National Guard Employment Protection Act of 2010 (H.R. 1879) -- Extends key reemployment rights to all of those called up for full-time National Guard duty, including those assigned to a homeland security mission.
* Helping Heroes Keep Their Homes Act of 2010 (H.R. 3976) -- Extends expiring protections that safeguard veteran homeowners from foreclosure immediately following deployment.
* Energy Jobs for Veterans Act (H.R. 4592) -- Increases job opportunities for veterans by reimbursing employers for the cost of providing on-the-job training for veterans in the energy sector through a new "Veterans Energy Related Employment Program" with competitive grants.
* Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2010 (H.R. 4667) Increases the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans, effective December 1, 2010.
VA Medical Care
It is critical that we ensure there is a robust VA medical system available so that Wisconsin's 445,000 veterans can get the quality care they have earned.
On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. Since the enactment of health care reform, many of concerns have been raised by veterans and Veterans Service Organizations as to how the new law would affect TRICARE beneficiaries, as well as veterans and certain dependents receiving care through the VA health care system. I can assure you that TRICARE, TRICARE for Life, and Veterans' Health Care will not be impacted by health care reform. Nothing in the health care reform bill changes the hard earned benefits of veterans through any of those programs. TRICARE, TRICARE for Life, and Veterans' Health Care all meet the requirements of the health reform legislation that calls for every American to be insured with at least a minimum quality of coverage. Enrollees in these programs can rest assured that health care reform has no negative impacts for them.
Veterans History Project
I believe we owe an enormous debt to our men and women in uniform. A great way to show our gratitude is to encourage them to share their memories and experiences. This is why 10 years ago I authored legislation creating the Veteran's History Project, which allows veterans and their families to record their stories and preserve them for future generations. These recordings are entered into the permanent collection in the Library of Congress, where they will serve as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices these men and women made defending our country.
The Veteran's History Project has recorded more than 66,000 stories and testimonials to date but there are more stories to be told.