Our country can never repay the debt we owe our nation's veterans and current active duty military personnel. These are the Americans who answered the call to duty and put their lives on the line to preserve our nation's freedoms. I have had the distinct honor of making several visits to our troops overseas to thank them for their service.
Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have fought to ensure that our military has the very best equipment, weaponry and training. I have also consistently voted to increase benefits to our veterans and to expand education benefits, provide vocational training and make housing more affordable to returning veterans.
Specifically, I have sponsored the Returning Soldiers' Bill of Rights, supported the Long Island State Veterans Home, voted for veterans housing benefits, voted to keep TRICARE costs low and voted for a tax deduction on TRICARE benefits. I was also instrumental in keeping the Manhattan VA open and in blocking private development at the St. Albans VA Community Living Center campus. Based on my support of veterans' initiatives, I was awarded an "A' on the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America report card.
I am a cosponsor of the Veterans' Disability Claims Efficiency Act, to fast-track claims within the Department of Veterans Affairs and quickly grant initial disability ratings to deserving veterans. This legislation would reduce the current backlog of 900,000 claims.
The Post 9/11 GI bill, enacted in 2008, brought the GI Bill of Rights into the 21st Century and expanded educational benefits for military veterans. But there is more work to be done. For instance, I strongly support the National Guard and Reserve Equality in Education Act, which would make it easier for Guardsmen and Reservists who can't physically attend classes to receive credit for graduate school courses which they take online.
In today's tough economy, our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling more than ever to find jobs. In the 113th Congress, I am reintroducing the Jobs for Veterans Act, which will give employers incentives to hire returning soldiers. This legislation is a win-win solution for veterans and business owners.
In addition to joblessness, returning veterans also face housing issues. I will continue to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure veterans get access to affordable housing and the support network they need.
Veterans and active military also face mental health issues. Traumatic brain injury is one of the major causes of PTSD among these men and women. I am the Lead Republican on the Joining Forces for Military Mental Health Act, which would create a pilot program to enhance Department of Defense efforts on mental health in the National Guard and Reserves through community partnerships. I am also a cosponsor of the Veterans' Traumatic Brian Injury Rehabilitation Services Improvement Act, which would improve rehabilitation services for veterans suffering from TBI.