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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, first, I thank the distinguished Senator from Massachusetts for his eloquence and passion and knowledge and leadership on all of these critical issues related to Iraq and what we need to be doing to keep our country safe.

I thank also Senator Carl Levin, our senior Senator from Michigan, for all his wonderful leadership as he has moved this bill and so many other bills through the Congress that deal with supporting our troops, being a strong military, and now making sure we are there for our troops when they come home.

I thank also Senator John McCain for his graciousness today, as well as for his work with Senator Levin. I thank Senator Danny Akaka, chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and Larry Craig, the ranking member, for their bipartisan effort.

This has truly been an excellent example of what we can do when we work together on something such as the wounded warrior amendment, which I am proud to be a cosponsor of. But the bipartisan effort, the effort between two committees of the Senate, working together, has been wonderful, and we now have an amendment in front of us, the Levin-McCain and others amendment, that is critically important to pass.

I stand here today as a daughter of a World War II Navy vet and the wife of an Air Force vet of 14 years, and I am very proud of what we are doing and what our new majority is doing to advocate for our troops and our veterans.

For too many soldiers and marines, the flight out of Iraq or Afghanistan is the first step in a long journey back to the lives they left at home.

Those wounded in combat face a second tour of duty--a tour of duty marked by long hours of rehabilitation, often painful medical procedures, and a physical or psychological adjustment to a life lived with the scars of war.

When the men and women of our Armed Forces put on the uniform, they
are making a promise to defend America. In return, we promise them that their Nation will be there for them when they come home.

Our Armed Forces truly are the finest patriots our Nation has to offer--truly. As members of an all-volunteer military, charged with defending the greatest democracy on Earth, our soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines have proven their bravery, courage, and honor time and again.

They don't need more empty promises. What they need and what we owe them is a system that works for them when they are wounded, either physically or mentally, in the service of our country.

I am very proud of the fact that our new majority has made both supporting our troops and our veterans one of our very top priorities. The budget resolution we passed earlier this year places fully funding veterans' health care, working with all of our veterans service organizations, as one of our very top budget priorities. Now we have in front of us another important way to support our troops coming home who are wounded.

We are a nation at war. We know that. We are currently ill-equipped to deal with the human consequences of that war.

The administration's failed planning for this war did not end at the borders of Iraq. It stretched into Walter Reed Hospital and into every veterans' health care facility, into every community that has sent an able-bodied son or daughter off to fight, only to be faced with the realities of an injured veteran returning home. Repeated redeployments have only compounded the problem, as we talked about yesterday, as we debated the important Webb amendment which, I might add, was passed and supported by 56 Members, although we could not break the filibuster of the Republican caucus. Mental health injuries have increased dramatically as troops have been forced to face their second, third, and fourth combat redeployments. The lack of time between redeployments has increased the physical danger to our troops by sending them back on the front lines, overtired, underequipped, and without the increased training they need.

Our heavy reliance on our National Guard has resulted in wounded veterans returning to cities and towns all across our country, often to communities that are far away from veterans' health care facilities or the traditional infrastructure of the military health care system. Our troops deserve better in Iraq, and they deserve better when they come home.

Earlier this year a bright light was turned on the deplorable conditions faced by some of our returning wounded veterans at Walter Reed. The true tragedy of these events is that they are merely a symptom of larger problems with a system that too often has let our soldiers and veterans down. I am very proud of the leadership coming from our caucus, our leader, Senator Reid, and our caucus leadership, in focusing the light of day and taking action that has brought us today to this very important amendment. There is no room for bureaucratic or political squabbling when it comes to the treatment of our soldiers and our veterans. The system should serve one mandate and one mandate only: providing the highest quality service available to all of them, while causing them the least amount of personal hassle and frustration.

Senator Levin's wounded warrior amendment is a much needed step, and it is a needed systemwide approach that has been put together on a bipartisan basis. It addresses many problems that plague this far too often burdened and difficult process while enhancing health care for wounded service men and women, including treatment of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been viewed now as the signature injury of this war.

The number of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing every day. These brave men and women don't have time to wait. They need their country to step up right now, and that is what we have the opportunity to do together with this amendment.

We have many disagreements in this body. The various pieces of legislation we face on a daily basis require robust debate and oftentimes we find ourselves on different sides of the issue of the day. I can't imagine, though, how any one of us would oppose this amendment. The facts are simple. The system is broken and in need of repair. The ones paying the price are our soldiers, our veterans, and their families. We need to make changes and we need to make them now.

This was a war of choice in Iraq, not of necessity. But dealing with the consequences of this war is unquestionably a necessity. Our troops have done their job and now we need to do ours. I urge my colleagues to support the wounded warrior amendment.

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