As the son of a World War II veteran, I hold the deepest respect for the sacrifice and dedication of the men and women who wear our country's uniform. Before serving as Postmaster in my hometown of Biscoe, my father served in the "Old Hickory" division, landing at Normandy and continuing on across Europe, pushing back Hitler's forces at the Battle of the Bulge. When folks stand up and wear our flag, in combat or in peacetime, they deserve the honor and respect that they themselves hold for our nation. You may be surprised to know that our district is home to almost 100,000 veterans and active duty military members. Their safety, well-being and continued care are of great concern to me, and the focus of my work on the House Armed Services Committee.
Unfortunately, this week marks the unnecessary end of a review period at the Veterans Administration regarding Gulf War illnesses that I'm fighting. As many of you may know, Gulf War veterans continue to develop often unexplained illnesses long after their military service to our nation ends. The VA has set a September 30 deadline for the time in which "unidentified presumptive illnesses" can surface that can be attributed to their duty serving in the Gulf War. Twenty-one years after the start of the war, many of these illnesses, symptoms, and causes still remain unknown. Even to this very day, our Vietnam-era Veterans continue to experience unexplained sickness and declining health. Some of these Veterans served more than four decades ago, yet we're still fighting to give them the care they so much deserve--including working to further expand coverage for Agent Orange exposure and equally recognizing all of our air, land and sea units for their sacrifices.
Illnesses do not recognize government statutes or regulatory time tables. To help fight this unnecessary and arbitrary end-date, I have introduced the Gulf War Syndrome Presumptive Illness Extension Act of 2011, legislation to reinstate this review period to make sure that every single consideration and element is considered. We cannot fully and immediately determine what illnesses may arise over time from all that our soldiers have endured, and I'll continue to fight this unnecessary end-date. Our government exists today because of the sacrifices of those who came before us, and I don't believe it is right to arbitrarily limit the care of those who have made our freedom possible.
As our soldiers return home, we must also do all we can to give them a clear path to education and employment. The number of unemployed veterans is shameful. All they want to do is be able to earn a good living. Beginning October 1, additional provisions of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will become law, helping our veterans return to a life they deserve--one with an open road to the many opportunities they fought to protect for you and me. Under the new laws, veterans who have served in our armed forces during the past decade will receive additional coverage for non-college degree programs, as well as job training and apprenticeship opportunities. We owe these soldiers so much.
This week in 1899, the Veterans of Foreign Wars was established--then called the American Veterans of Foreign Service--with veterans of the Spanish-American war and the Philippine Insurrection banding together to fight for better care upon return. The VFW has kept that fight alive in the 112 years since, remaining the largest American organization of combat veterans. All of our local VFWs do so much to make a difference, not only just for other veterans, but for all of our communities. There is always an opportunity to assist or contribute to the efforts of our local veterans organizations, and I ask you to join me in fighting to protect them and honor their sacrifices in any way you can.
If you know of any veterans or military members who aren't getting the care they deserve, or are having trouble with the VA, please have them contact any of my offices here in North Carolina. Whether they're relatives, friends or members of your church or other civic organization, if there's any way that I or the caseworkers in our Congressional offices can help them cut through the red tape and get what is owed to them, please let us know. I'm committed to doing everything in my ability to do what's right for the people of our district, and taking care of our veterans is of utmost importance.