As we know from the First Amendment to our Constitution, the right to petition the government is one of the fundamental freedoms afforded to all Americans. The First Amendment consists of five freedoms: Religion, Free Speech, Free Press, Assembly, and Petition.
The Petition section of the First Amendment states that "People have the right to appeal to government in favor of or against policies that affect them or in which they feel strongly." A simple way to think of the right to petition is that all Americans have the right to present requests to the government without fear of punishment or reprisal, and have an expectation that those requests be considered.
Our office often calls this "cutting through the red tape." Far too often, bureaucracy blocks citizens from being able to fully exercise their right to petition the government. Our office works hard to cut through that bureaucracy and get folks the help they need and deserve. Sometimes the requests people have are specific and relate to their own benefits. Other times, the requests people make concern legislation or how our government operates.
Last week, we had a major victory for some veterans who have valiantly served our country. It all came about because a Vietnam Veteran, John Roberts of Midland, was concerned for his fellow veterans who had served on the USS Douglas H. Fox during the Vietnam War. Roberts served as a Gunners Mate Second Class on the USS Douglas H. Fox. Because of Mr. Roberts' concerns, and the efforts of my staff, the USS Fox is now part of the Blue Water Agent Orange Exposure Registry List. The addition of the destroyer to the list allows Vietnam veterans who served on the USS Fox who are affected by the herbicide Agent Orange, as well as their survivors and dependents, to become eligible for Veterans Affairs benefits including an Agent Orange Registry health exam, health care and disability compensation for diseases associated with exposure to the herbicide.
Our veterans have answered the call of duty generation after generation and it is completely unacceptable for any veteran to be denied the appropriate benefits. It is our duty to protect those who fought, and continue to fight, to keep our nation free. These brave men and women deserve the respect of the best of care when they return home and I'll continue to cut through any red tape or bureaucracy that deprives our heroes from getting the care they are owed. Mr. Roberts act of petitioning his government has the potential to help hundreds of Veterans and their family members.
Sometimes, the act of petitioning one's government can help right a wrong in one individual's own benefits. A few weeks ago, one of our caseworkers settled a case for a veteran, a case that had been pending for the better part of a decade. The veteran contacted our office about the VA appeal which had been pending since 2004. I'm proud to say that the case was settled and the constituent received his benefits and nearly $80,000 in retroactive payments that were due to him. Our office has helped recover millions of dollars in Veterans and Social Security benefits for people here in the 8th District over the last 4 years, and each and every case has started with a person stepping up to petition their government.
Sometimes, it is an act of speaking up about righting a wrong that is brought to our attention. We've worked to improve care of Veterans at the VA hospitals and clinics, fought government waste, and righted wrongs like foreign materials being used to build facilities for our military. Two years ago, I was told that rather than use the plentiful hardwoods available in North Carolina, that bamboo was being imported to build a gym floor for our military at Camp Lejeune. I got to work and made sure that American materials were used for that floor, as well as other projects.
Our government is built on the simple but powerful promise that any American citizen can improve our country and right a wrong by speaking up. I've seen its power first hand and encourage you to use your own right to petition your government. Together we can make sure America's best days are ahead of us.