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Public Statements

Memorial Day

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to reflect on this year's Memorial Day commemorations and the importance of this holiday in American life.

As I attend Memorial Day parades and commemorations, I'm struck by the spirit of national unity on display because I know that across Michigan—and across our Nation—our fellow Americans are taking part in similar gatherings where we take the time to reflect on our history and the sacrifice that brought us to where we are today.

Memorial Day is unique among American holidays. On Memorial Day we do not honor a particular date or event—a battle or the end of a war. On Memorial Day we do not honor an individual leader—a president or a general. On Memorial Day we do not even honor ourselves—at least not in the present tense.

On Memorial Day we pay homage to the thousands and thousands of individual acts of bravery and sacrifice that stretch back to the battlefields of our Revolution and are on display today in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan.

We honor the brave men and women who answered their Nation's call to duty. And—making that ultimate sacrifice—never returned to their families and loved ones.

As part of this year's Memorial Day commemorations, I have been paying special respects to our Korean war veterans because this July marks the 50th Anniversary of the armistice that ended that war.

Notice I said Korean war. I did not say "the Korean Conflict." I did not call it a police action. I've met too many Korean war veterans. I've heard too many of their stories.

It was the Korean war.

About 2 million Americans served on active duty with the United States Armed Forces during the Korean war. And nearly 55,000 never came home.

The Korean war is often called "the forgotten war." Well, it is not forgotten by me. I've met too many Korean war veterans and heard the stories of the hardships they endured defending—in the words of the plaque at the Korean War Memorial—"a country they never knew, and a people they never met."

So I think that one of the most fitting ways to pay homage to our fallen patriots is to treat their living comrades with the respect and honor they deserve.

Michigan is home to 875,000 veterans, and in personal conversations, letters, phone calls and e-mails I have heard from many who are not being treated fairly by the veterans' health care system or by present pension regulations.

Right now, we are underfunding veterans' health care by close to $2 billion. This means it can take months to see a doctor and delays of a year or longer for some surgical procedures.

I am cosponsoring the Veterans Health Care Funding Guarantee Act of 2003—S. 50—that would order a 20 percent increase in funding for the Veteran's Health Administration by 2005, and adjust the amount upwards every year after that to take into account new enrollees.

Also, antiquated laws have also created an unfair situation wherein a veteran's pension can be reduced by the amount of their disability payment for a service-related disability. In some cases the pension can be wiped out entirely.

This is unfair. Pension and disability payments are two separate and distinct benefits. Our veterans have earned their pensions. And if they also suffered a service-related disability that has cut their ability to earn money outside the military, they are entitled to a separate disability payment as well.

I am cosponsoring the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2003—S. 392. This bill would require that veterans receive their full pension plus all disability payments to which they are entitled. This issue is also known as full concurrent receipt.

As we observe this holiday we call Memorial Day, let us remember the centuries of sacrifice by thousands and thousands of men and women that this day represents. And let's make sure that all who served with honor are honored in return.

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