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Column: Honoring Service Past and Present This Memorial Day


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A column by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill

For the servicemen and women defending our country in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, May 25th will be much like every other day in combat. For the families of these service members, it is another day that they spend separated from their loved ones. But, for the rest of us, this day presents a unique opportunity to honor those who have served and sacrificed in our armed services.

My father was a veteran of World War II, so I grew up knowing how service affects a family, a community and a service member. I believe it is the true measure of a country whether it keeps its promises to the men and women who have served and sacrificed in uniform.

Unfortunately, America's commitment to veterans has all too-often been overlooked. When my father returned home, he was given an education and a promise of health care for his combat related injuries and illnesses. But the men and women returning home from battle in recent years have found themselves in a different situation, often struggling with access to healthcare and receiving limited educational opportunities.

In the last few years, Congress has worked to redeem ourselves to our servicemen and women. As a former auditor, I'm not normally a proponent of increased government spending, but when it comes to honoring our veterans, we can't skimp. I'm proud that we were able to increase the federal budget by $5.5 billion for needed programs and support for veterans.

Congress was also able to win passage of a new GI bill so that no service member has to wonder how he or she will get the education to start a new career after finishing service to the country. And we've improved the way the military delivers healthcare to the brave wounded warriors returning home. We also reached a milestone in travel reimbursement for veterans - especially those in rural areas - who must drive long distances for healthcare. Now our veterans receive almost four times more reimbursement per mile than they did in 2007, a number that hadn't changed in thirty years.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing $22 million for improvements at VA facilities in Missouri, and $1.7 million was awarded for the care of our veterans' cemeteries. The electronic medical records system the Obama administration has introduced will further keep today's newest veterans from falling off the grid when they leave active duty, making the transition smoother from military to veterans' healthcare facilities.

But, the federal government still has work to do. We must address the growing problem of substance abuse in the military and ensure that our service members are provided the best mental health care to ease their transition back home after serving abroad. I am working in the Senate to address these issues.

As more and more service members return from Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no better time to honor our promise to America's military men and women. This Memorial Day, as you pass by cemeteries adorned with flags for the fallen, I hope you feel proud to be an American and are reminded that our freedom can never be taken for granted. As you visit with family and friends and participate in barbeques and sporting events, I urge you to take a moment to think about the men and women serving abroad and their families. I will be doing these things because I know that without their service, America and the world would be very different.

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