Wicker: Local tributes, defense manufacturing underscore our reputation as top-military state

Published 7:00 am Thursday, November 3, 2016

Patriotism is never in short supply in our state, and it was certainly on full display at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center in Biloxi on October 25.

I joined Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, Rep. Steven Palazzo, and our service members from South Mississippi at the 38th annual Gulf Coast Salute to the Military.

Salute to the Military is an annual tribute to our active-duty troops, veterans, and those who lost their lives in combat. It also honors the strength of the Gulf Coast’s military community. In her remarks, Secretary James noted that Keesler Air Force Base has provided critical technical training to most of the Air Force’s airmen. Keesler – which marks its 75th anniversary this year – is well known for its history and excellence, having recently been recognized as a top Air Force base.

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Meridian Advances in Trainer Aircraft Competition

Mississippi’s military communities and skilled workforce have earned widespread attention for their contributions to national security and defense manufacturing. Raytheon recently selected Meridian as a potential production site to build its next generation of training aircraft for the Air Force.

If eventually selected, this site would not only advance our state’s leadership in aerospace and technology but would also lead to thousands of new, well-paying jobs for Mississippians.

Our congressional delegation has a strong and proven record of supporting our men and women in uniform. How many other states have lawmakers in Congress who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines? We will continue to fight to make sure our troops are prepared and that our veterans receive the care they deserve.

Demanding Accountability at the VA

This includes reforms to the VA system in the wake of scandal, where veterans were routinely denied access to timely care because data regarding patient wait times was being falsified. Congress passed legislation two years ago to reform the system, in addition to offering veterans more choice and flexibility in their health care.

I am dismayed by a new report showing that managers involved in the scandal have merely been moved to other positions or medical centers. The “Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act” gives VA Secretary Robert McDonald the authority to remove these individuals. The Obama Administration’s assertion that the VA has new managers is disingenuous, when only eight of 92 have come from outside the system. I have called on VA Secretary Robert McDonald to respond to the allegation that only “one to six” people have been fired since the reform legislation became law in 2014.

With Veterans Day on the horizon, we are reminded of the incredible sacrifices that have been made to defend freedom. We cannot ever fully repay these Americans for their service, but we can ensure that we meet our obligations and fulfill our promises. Military service is a high calling. Likewise, building and developing the ships, aircraft, and technology.

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker