My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and I have a deep respect for those who have served our country in uniform. From my father's experience, I know how important it is that we honor our promise to provide veterans with health care, education, and other benefits. If you have served our country and risked your life for our freedom, we owe you a debt of gratitude that matches your sacrifice - and that includes comprehensive health care and benefits.
With as many as 700,000 veterans and armed forces personnel from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq expected to enter the military and VA health care systems in the coming years, I believe it is our solemn and moral obligation to make sure that benefits and health care keep pace with the rising numbers of those who have served. Almost 5.5 million people received care in Department of Veterans Affairs health care facilities in 2008, including hundreds of thousands of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. This is an area of federal spending where scrimping is unconscionable, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to secure the benefits that our veterans deserve. It is critical that we ensure that the voices of Colorado's veterans are heard and that they are shown the respect they deserve.
An issue particularly important to me is addressing the increasing incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting from action on today's battlefield. We all know that PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury are signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to do all we can to ensure America's veterans are well cared for when they come home, including ensuring they have access to behavioral and mental health services to treat these injuries and help them reintegrate into civilian life.
Fitzsimons Veterans Medical Center
After years of delay and controversy about the future of Denver's VA Medical Center, Colorado's veterans got some good news in 2009 when the Obama Administration announced plans to build a stand-alone, 200-bed tertiary care hospital at the former Fitzsimons Army base in Aurora. The future of the aging Denver VA hospital had been a source of tension between the Colorado veterans' community and the VA, and I fought for many years to get the VA to honor its promise to replace the hospital. I'm very glad that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki heard the voices of the Colorado Congressional delegation, our local veterans' community and veterans' service organizations, and came up with the right solution for Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region.
While this decision is certainly a great step forward, we are still at the beginning stages of a long construction process. I will work hard in the coming years to use my powers of oversight to ensure the work is done as efficiently and effectively as possible - and to ensure that sufficient funding is appropriated. This hospital is badly needed, and it is long past time to complete construction and ensure our veterans can get the best health care available.
Bringing a National Veterans' Cemetery to Southern Colorado
Colorado currently has two national veterans' cemeteries - Fort Logan National Cemetery near Denver and Fort Lyons National Cemetery near Las Animas - both of which are inconveniently located far from Colorado's largest veterans' community in the Pikes Peak region. In addition' the Fort Logan National Cemetery is expected to reach full capacity in 2019. Southern Colorado's veterans need a cemetery to call their own. A new national cemetery will give the over 150,000 veterans in southern Colorado a cemetery closer to home, while expanding the length of time Colorado's existing cemeteries can be used. Last year, I introduced legislation along with Senator Michael Bennet (S. 691) that would establish a new national veterans' cemetery in El Paso County to serve the growing veterans' populations in the Pikes Peak region and southern Colorado. And I will continue work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation as soon as possible so that southern Colorado's veterans can have a cemetery that honors the sacrifice they have made for our freedom.