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Veterans Day

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, America today has the most powerful, most capable and best-equipped military in the history of the world. But none of this would be possible without the brave men and women who volunteer to serve in the Armed Forces, who accept any challenge and face any danger to protect their country on battlefields around the world. Each of them is a volunteer-no conscription, no draft. They have a genuine desire to serve, and they do so with great sacrifice with great honor, great courage, great commitment, and often with great sacrifice.

Time and again, our Nation has called its sons and daughters to put themselves in harm's way, and many bear the scars of battle forever. Despite the rhetoric of praise that we hear again and again, too often when their service ends, these veterans are forgotten, except on Veterans Day. We have consistently underfunded the veterans' health care system. The Veterans' Administration is now preparing plans to close veterans' hospitals in New England and across the Nation. They oppose allowing disabled veterans to receive disability benefits if they also receive military retirement compensation.

As troops continue to serve in Iraq, we need to make sure we can take care of them and their families, especially when they return home. We have a solemn responsibility to those who are willing to sacrifice so much. We do them a grave injustice when they return home to be cast aside. Today, tens of thousands of newly discharged veterans are unemployed. National Guard and Reserve soldiers face lower wages and possible job loss while they are deployed. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, USERRA, protects soldiers from employment discrimination, but service members can have difficulty enforcing their rights.

We can't have any more situations like the one at Fort Stewart, where Guard and Reserve troops were housed in deplorable accommodations, with unacceptable access to health care and needed services to heal their injuries. Such neglect is no way for a grateful Nation to honor its armed services. We can and we must do better.

For generations, we have honored our fallen veterans on November 11 each year. The Armistice Agreement that ended the First World War was signed on this historic day in 1918-the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that year. Many of those we honor today have fallen in battle in Iraq.

Last week, I attended the funeral service of a Massachusetts soldier who gave his life in combat there and was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It was a beautiful fall day and the military ceremony was conducted with solemn dignity and utmost reverence. It was a very moving moment to be there with his family and friends and veterans of his unit. His parents have lost a son, and the Nation has lost a hero. As the bugler played taps, and the sounds of the rifle volleys from a final salute faded across the Arlington hills, it was moving to see that the veterans there had also lost a brother, although none of them knew the fallen soldier personally. The brave paratrooper who had tried to carry his dying comrade to safety during the attack was also there. His silent presence spoke volumes about the valor and dedication that our service members give to our Nation every day, and have given us throughout our history ever since that day at Concord Bridge, when the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard 'round the world.

On Veterans Day 2003, we thank our veterans. We remember those who have given the last full measure of devotion to our country, and we affirm our support for all who now wear the uniforms of our armed forces. We give thanks to all who have served America so well in years gone by, and to all the brave men and women serving now in the ongoing war against terrorism. And we pledge, in words that too often pass and are soon forgotten, to do a better job of meeting our responsibility to them every day, not just on each November 11. May God give us the strength to make each day a Veterans Day.

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