It is our solemn duty as Americans to do all we can to honor our veterans, the brave men and women of the Armed Forces who have sacrificed so much to keep us free. From the G.I.s who stormed the beaches of Normandy to the Green Berets who fought in the jungles of Vietnam to the servicemen and women who are returning home with honor from Iraq and Afghanistan, these patriots are the best our nation has to offer. That is why we must hold our government in Washington accountable to keep its commitments to our veterans and their families.
As the son of a Vietnam-era veteran and the grandson of a veteran of World War II's Pacific theater--the former Commanding General of the 100th Division, U.S. Army Reserves--I was raised to respect our veterans and their service to our nation. But it wasn't until August 2001 when I visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial overlooking Omaha Beach in northern France that I truly began to appreciate the significance of what our veterans have given to our nation and the world. The memorial, which is located on the site established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944, as the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, covers over 170 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.
We must never forget their service and sacrifice. So as the next Congressman for Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District, I pledge to establish a working veterans task force to serve as a liaison between the congressional office and the broader veterans community and to work on the following priorities for central Kentucky's many veterans and their families:
Promote Jobs and Job Protections for Veterans
Sadly, one million of our veterans are unemployed, including 632,000 veterans between the ages of 35 and 64. This is yet another example of this administration's failed leadership on the economy. Veterans separating from the military may go to school on the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill; however, veterans of prior conflicts have no similar opportunity. So in addition to lowering taxes and eliminating regulations that hinder job growth, Congress should pass the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act, which would provide a time-limited educational benefit to unemployed veterans aged 35 to 60 at community colleges and technical training schools. This legislation would also improve the Transition Assistance Program to acquaint our younger veterans, including disabled veterans, with the civilian workforce. We must also enforce existing job protections for veterans, especially those who serve in the National Guard and the Reserves, and clarify the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act to make sure veterans are not punished for seeking medical treatment for service-connected conditions.
Decrease the Backlog of Disability Claims
Too many of the veterans I have met, including Wounded Warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have experienced difficulty with the processing of their disability claims. Bureaucracy should not prevent or delay our heroes from receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. As the next Congressman from central Kentucky, I will work to reduce inefficiencies at the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.
Mental Health Programs / Improve Screening for PTSD
Many of our returning veterans have mental health needs that require immediate attention. According to a recent report, veterans account for one out of every five suicides in the nation annually. Unfortunately, many of our veterans are not receiving prompt screening and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other invisible wounds of war. In some cases, care has been denied by reclassifying the problem as an ailment other than PTSD. In Congress, I will be an advocate for our veterans to ensure that the young men and women returning from the theater of battle receive prompt and comprehensive screening and treatment for PTSD and other mental health illnesses.
Access to Health Care for Active Duty Military
Prior to discharge, many active duty military and Wounded Warriors returning from war have significant health care needs. Regrettably, the military has sometimes denied care or delayed treatment on grounds that the health care sought is unrelated to the reason the service member left the field of battle. Our soldiers, sailors, and Marines should get the treatment they need and deserve, whether service-connected or not and regardless of the reason their deployment ended.
Recently, the United States traded ten convicted Russian spies in exchange for the release of four American agents. The State Department worked diligently to secure the release of two American hikers imprisoned in Iran. Our government should apply the same level of resources and dedication to obtain the immediate freedom of all American military personnel captured on the field of battle and held hostage by the enemy. We must never forget our Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action, and Congress should not rest until every single POW-MIA is accounted for and brought home safely to their families.
Prevent Reduction in Force from Impacting Readiness
As Congress reduces the size of the military as the United States moves to a post-conflict phase in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must not allow our readiness to be compromised. The world remains a dangerous place and we must not return to the complacency that led to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. This means we must guard against deep cuts in weapons systems, which would compromise our national security capabilities and in personnel, especially the National Guard, which is arguably the most efficient and cost-effective option for our national defense.
Depoliticize Military Appropriations
Congress must stop the practice of using our nation's veterans as a political bargaining chip in end of year appropriations legislation. In Congress, I will support "clean" appropriations for Military Construction and Department for Veterans Affairs and advance appropriations for VA medical programs.
Promote "Made in the U.S.A." for DOD and VA Purchasing
End the practice of purchasing "Made in China" supplies and replace them with "Made in the U.S.A." products for the Vet Center and other programs for veterans.