The life of a soldier is not easy. Often times you are expected to leave your friends, family or career at a moment's notice and travel to unfamiliar environments facing dangerous situations. The life of a soldier's family is not easy either as they are left to carry on and worry in the soldier's absence.
Since entering Congress, I have made veterans and their families a focus of my work in our nation's capital. Our troops and veterans serve our country with distinction and I believe it is our duty to honor them and make sure they have the services they need to succeed.
Last week in the House of Representatives, I helped pass H.R. 5854, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which appropriates funds for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs and related agencies for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2013. H.R. 5854 passed the House of Representatives with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 407 to 12 and must now be considered by the Senate.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to help pass many pieces of legislation that have put our troops and veterans first. I helped pass the largest investment in veterans' health care funding in the history of the VA, worked to modernize the GI Bill for the first time in over 20 years to help cover the cost of college and allow soldiers and veterans to transfer these education benefits to their spouses and children, and ensured our Reserve and National Guard soldiers also qualified for this new college benefit when they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Additionally, since I came to Congress, we have provided a 70 percent increase in funding for veterans' health care and benefits, over 10,200 new claims processors to reduce VA case backlogs, 18,000 new doctors and nurses, 145 new community-based vet outpatient clinics, and 92 new vet centers. The Fiscal Year 2013 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill continues that commitment to our nation's veterans by ensuring the VA is able to provide quality medical care to more than 6.3 million patients in 2013, including 610,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
This legislation also provides funding for the ongoing effort to create an integrated electronic health record that transitions from an individual's active service in the military to the VA, includes funds for VA homeless assistance programs and homeless veterans' treatment costs. It also provides funding for mental health programs -- including post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention.
Unfortunately, many veterans in our rural communities are often geographically deprived of access to a local VA facility. This legislation appropriates the funds necessary to continue improving access and quality of care for the more than 3 million veterans residing in rural areas.
We owe our freedoms and way of life to our veterans and we must always recognize and thank them for their service. I will continue to fight for the needs and concerns of the nearly 60,000 veterans in Arkansas's Fourth Congressional District and to those men and women in uniform currently serving throughout the world.
No soldier or veteran should ever be left behind by his or her government. Politics and partisanship should never be a factor in our support for American veterans or troops. On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind. This day and every day, let us honor their service with actions that fulfill our commitment to our troops, their families and our veterans.