I believe those who serve and their families are among our country's greatest military resources, and I believe our nation has made a solemn promise to the members of our military that we need to fulfill. The first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with those who've worn the uniform of the United States of America.
That is why I believe that today's men and women in uniform should receive adequate pay and full health care coverage including access to TRICARE.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed unprecedented burdens on our men and women in uniform, and I have worked hard to expand mental health care access to returning service members to help them deal with the stresses of the service. We need to make sure our military service members get the mental and physical health care they need during and after their service to our country.
And our obligation to our service members continues after their service ends. As a veteran myself, I believe that keeping faith with veterans is about honoring America's promise: if you take care of us and our country, we'll take care of you. That is why I supported a modernized GI Bill that will enhance educational benefits for returning service members.
While funding for the VA has increased, I believe that more can be done. Nearly 1.7 million service members have deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan, sometimes both. Many of these service members have left the military and are eligible benefits and services at the VA. That is why I support an advanced funding bill for the VA. This is a common sense approach that will prevent much needed VA health care funding from being held hostage from future budget debates.
Thousands of veterans have been frustrated with the increasing levels of bureaucracy when seeking a claim or health care benefit. That is why I believe the integration of the DOD and the VA's electronic medical records systems remains a priority. I will continue to push the DOD and the VA to integrate their electronic records systems as we move forward.
The time active service members are away from home can cause great stress on his or her family, as well. I have fought to protect those military families. Last year I offered an amendment to the Housing and Economic Recovery Act that amended the Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by extending the period a lender must wait before starting foreclosure procedures from 90 days to nine months after a service member has returned from active duty and capping interest on mortgages at 6 percent for one year after a serviceperson completes his/her services.
I have also introduced legislation that will provide tax credits to employers that elect to pay the difference in wages to employees that are currently deployed. This legislation would extend a current provision provides a tax credit to small businesses to assist with the cost of paying the salary of their reservist employees when they are called to active duty and includes provisions that make it easier for employers who would like to pay their employees supplemental income, above their military pay, and make pension contributions.
Members of the Reserve component have made extraordinary sacrifices since September 11, 2001 and deserve credit for their sacrifice. That is why I have introduced legislation that will amend current law to include any duty performed after September 11, 2001 as service qualifying for reducing the age at which retirement pay can be received. Currently, National Guard and Reserve members are the only federal retirees who must wait until age 60 to collect retirement pay.
Supporting our troops needs to be much more than just a political slogan or some stickers on cars; we need to give them the care and support they need while they serve our nation, and continue to keep our promises to them after their service has ended. I want to ensure that our troops, our veterans, and their families are honored with the respect of a grateful nation.