Celebrating America’s legacy of military service on Veterans Day
Americans celebrate Veterans Day in many ways – from participating in community parades and patriotic tributes to saying a simple word of thanks to a service member. The right to cast a ballot on Election Day this month was just one reminder of how precious our freedom is and the importance of preserving it. On Veterans Day, we honor those who have risen to the challenge by serving in our armed services.
Congress plays an important role in ensuring that America’s veterans receive the care and respect they deserve. A number of needed reforms were enacted this year to improve the quality of care in VA hospitals and restore accountability after widespread reports of patient backlogs and unofficial waiting lists.
The need for reform was addressed during the Senate’s confirmation of Robert McDonald as the new Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs and through the enactment of bipartisan legislation that prioritizes efficient, high-quality health care for veterans.
Under the new law, veterans have more choices and flexibility when it comes to their health services and providers. They can visit non-VA facilities if they are unable to get an appointment within 30 days or if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility. The legislation also authorizes the establishment of 27 new VA medical facilities, and it gives the VA Secretary new authority to demote or fire VA employees for misconduct or poor performance.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and those Americans who served the cause, often in dangerous and far-flung corners of the world, should have the best care available to them when they return home.
Congress also has a responsibility to ensure that the federal government keeps its promises to veterans. I was an early, outspoken critic of the misguided military pension cuts in last year’s budget deal, which would have affected at least 27,000 military retirees in Mississippi. Congress reversed the cuts earlier this year, reaffirming that the government will uphold its end of the bargain and not put additional burdens on those who have already shouldered sacrifice.
Recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a new generation of heroes, who join the ranks of veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and the Persian Gulf, among other conflicts. The drawdown of forces from Afghanistan at the end of the year closes a major chapter in U.S. military involvement.
However, as we have seen with the current unrest in Iraq, it is critical for the hard-fought gains in Afghanistan to be maintained. Persistent security challenges, including the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, have demonstrated the need to remain alert to new dangers – a priority that the new Congress should confront without delay.
The history of Veterans Day can be traced to the end of World War I, when the fighting stopped between the Allied nations and Germany on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. First known as Armistice Day, the commemoration was expanded to include all military veterans in 1954.
Today, it remains a solemn day of gratitude, pride, and patriotism, when Americans can come together to honor those whose service and sacrifice have kept our country safe and free.
By Roger Wicker, U.S. Senator