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Column - Celebrate Freedom

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Between parades, concerts, picnics and fireworks, the Fourth of July holiday is rich with joy and celebration. Independence Day allows us to celebrate the freedoms and liberties we enjoy each day, often without giving it a second thought. But the holiday we experience here at home in Nebraska is nothing like that of a solider fighting overseas, thousands of miles from friends and family.

It's important to take a moment to remember the men and women of our armed forces who make our freedom possible. Without their relentless commitment and enormous sacrifice, our ability to enjoy a Fourth of July parade or grandiose fireworks show this week -- or any week -- would be in jeopardy.

As a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee in the Senate, it is my honor to help ensure our service members receive support and assistance fitting of their sacrifice. It's also an honor to help provide the tools to successfully transition into civilian life after their service.

Many service members in ag-rich states like Nebraska go straight from a cornfield to boot camp. I've long supported initiatives for veterans who want to return to the farm when they've completed their service. Included in the Senate-passed farm bill this year is a provision I sponsored with Sen. Max Baucus of Montana that would give veterans preferences in certain farm, conservation and rural development programs.

Last week, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado that would increase the availability of on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs for veterans. Our bill strengthens the partnership between the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) and civilian programs. It helps employ veterans looking for jobs and brings highly-trained, highly-skilled individuals to employers. Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirms this bill is fully paid-for, saving $14 million over the next five years. That's a winning combination for everyone involved.

I also introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas to the immigration reform bill that would help veterans continue to serve our nation by protecting our borders. Our amendment encourages the Department of Homeland Security to hire veterans and service members for border security positions. Though I did not support the final 1,200-page immigration bill, I was pleased our amendment was included in the Senate-passed legislation.

Despite the challenges we face as a nation and the intense debates that often rise from our Republic, Independence Day is a reminder that we are the greatest nation in the world and can accomplish anything we put our minds to. It is fitting that we often find common ground in support of our military personnel. They are some of the best and brightest our country has to offer, and I'm proud to stand with them. God bless and have a happy Fourth of July as we tip our hats to our nation's heroes.


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