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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, this month we mark the 10th anniversary of the United States-led invasion of Iraq. With more veterans per capita than nearly any other State, Montanans proudly answer when duty calls.

The Book of John, chapter 15, verse 13 says: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.''

On this anniversary, we remember the Montanans and all Americans who laid down their lives in the name of freedom.

On my family ranch near Wolf Creek, MT, there is a willow tree that sways in the wind and stretches in the Sun.

On July 29, 2006, my nephew, Marine Cpl Phillip Baucus, was killed during combat operations in Iraq's Al Anbar Province. He was just 28 years old.

He was laid to rest on the same mountain where my father lies, the same ranch where he had married his lovely Katharine less than 1 year earlier.

Phillip was a bright and dedicated young man. He was like a son to me.

My brother John and I planted that willow tree on the ranch in memory of Phillip. We also planted a pine tree nearby.

I am not the only Montanan who has grieved. Forty Montanans have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We grieve for them all. We miss them all.

We must honor their courage by living up to the ideals they died to defend. We must also honor their sacrifice by supporting the troops who come home forever changed. Thousands come home with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other injuries.

Make no mistake, we have taken important steps to see that veterans receive the care they need when they come home. We have worked for a strong post-9/11 GI bill to ensure thousands of veterans can go to college. We also fought to make sure the VA is fairly and adequately supporting our student veterans. Yet it remains a disgrace that unemployment rates among veterans exceed that of nonveterans.

In Montana, unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stands at 17.5 percent. That is the fourth highest rate in the country.

Since the Iraq war began, I have hired veterans to help draft policies that honor the sacrifices of our military. My staff has worked with me to draft the original tax credit for businesses that hire veterans. I am very honored to see that has been adopted by this Congress and by the President.

We spearheaded efforts to improve mental health screenings for all branches of the military based on Montana's strong model for catching the warning signs of PTSD. We started that in Montana. It is now incorporated as national defense policy.

In the last 10 years, our Nation has also been fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. As we reflect on the costs of the war in Iraq, we know that now is the time for Afghans to take responsibility for their own country.

In 2013, $97 billion will go to the war in Afghanistan alone. Do you know that the money that is being spent in both Iraq and Afghanistan is enough to double the number of public elementary schools in the United States and rebuild the American Interstate Highway System five times over? Dollars spent daily in Afghanistan need to be spent on nation building here at home.

While I am proud that we are closer than ever to bringing all of our troops home, it is not enough to just bring them back. We need to and can be doing a better job making sure our troops are ready to compete and win on the homefront. That means making sure that the day they are discharged from the service, they can transfer skills earned from the military into the civilian workforce.

My first order of business this year was to declare war on veterans unemployment. Troops who are trained to do a job in the military should get civilian credentials at the same time. They should not have to get recredentialed and retrained when they get home. If they got credentialed in the military, that should be sufficient for driving trucks, et cetera. The effort is already underway for EMTs and truckdrivers, but my VETs Act goes even further to cover military police, firefighters, and air traffic controllers. In 2011, 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed in Montana, 240,000 unemployed nationwide. With 34,000 troops scheduled to come home from Afghanistan next year, the time to get serious about tackling veterans unemployment is now.

We will never forget the Montanans we have lost in combat in the Mideast over the last 10 years. They had big dreams. They looked forward to long, happy lives. They were volunteers. They were sons and daughters. They had children. They had dear friends. They grew up in small towns, such as Fairfield, Sand Springs, Philipsburg, and Wolf Creek. We hear their voices at Little League games, in the babbling creeks of Montana, in the rustling of willow trees we planted to remember them. We remember them in our hearts and in our deeds. President Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address with a call for the Nation to ``care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.'' Lincoln's charge remains our sacred duty today. The 40 Montanans we remember today left behind 28 children who will be growing up without them.

I also applaud a group of patriotic Montanans who are working to make sure those children can get a college education in Montana. Grateful Nation Montana is a proud example of answering the call to serve, serving those who proudly served us. Their mission is to provide college scholarships at Montana schools for the sons and daughters of our fallen heroes.

We must remember our vets. To all of our veterans and families of veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, we want them to know they are not alone.

Let's recommit ourselves to making sure our veterans come home safely to good-paying jobs and a nation that honors their sacrifices.

NATIONAL AG WEEK

I would like to speak on another important issue in my home State as we mark National Ag Week. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, ``Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.'' Truer words were never spoken to describe the divide of how agriculture is viewed between Washington, DC, and Montana.

Agriculture is a central part of who we are as Montanans. Fifty percent of Montana's economy is tied to ranching and farming, supporting one in five jobs in Montana.

I had the privilege to grow up on a ranch outside of Helena, MT, near Wolf Creek, MT. It taught me firsthand the values of hard work, faith, family, and doing what is right. Those are the values I take with me to work every day.

Paul Harvey, who got his start in broadcasting in Montana, said it best in his poem "So God Made a Farmer":

God looked down on the Earth he created and said, I need a caretaker for this world I have made, and so God made a farmer.

So as part of trying to bridge that divide between Washington, DC, and Montana, I honor the strong legacy of farming and ranching families in Montana by celebrating National Ag Day. For those Montana families involved in agriculture, it is so much more than a livelihood, it is a way of life. I am honored to represent so many ranchers, so many farmers from Montana who have dedicated their lives to the land and provide a service from which everyone in the world benefits.

I yield the floor.


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