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Front Page » November 11, 2003 » Opinion » Honoring the nations defenders
Published 4,001 days ago

Honoring the nations defenders


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By JIM MATHESON
United States Congressman

This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Veterans Day-a day set aside to pay tribute to our 25 million living veterans. It is also a time to honor and show support for America's active military.

Veterans Day is a chance to look back at the events of the last year. During a visit in April to a military hospital in Germany, I met several Utah soldiers who were recovering from injuries received in Iraq. I came away inspired by their commitment and determination. Their stories continually remind me of why Congressional support of our troops is so critical to completing our mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We all want our troops to return home quickly, which is why they must have the best weapons, training resources, and strategic tools we can offer. That's why I have consistently supported increased funding for soldiers and the military. It's also why I continue to press for body armor for every single soldier on the ground. Iraq is a dangerous place and half-hearted support for those on the front lines is simply not an option.

I recently visited with a Utah reservist who came home on two weeks' leave. I was shocked to learn that the military only paid his way from Iraq to the East Coast. He and his family had to pay the rest of the travel bill. What message does that send to families who have already given so much to the fight?

Both on the battlefield and off we can do better by our soldiers. Congress recently voted to double the death benefit for soldiers and made it tax-exempt. Reservists now have access to military health care for themselves and their families at a modest premium. We can't ask men and women to put their lives on hold and not provide basic family benefits.

Utahns have always proudly worn the uniform of this nation and have sacrificed much to answer duty's call. That is why it is important to me that we keep our word with regard to promised benefits. It is our treatment of these heroes that speaks volumes to future young men and women who also contemplate joining the military.

Duty, honor, and service. These words are the focus of Veterans Day as we remember and celebrate our military. But our soldiers are willing to fight for us each and every day and our nation should honor this commitment by making veterans and military issues a constant priority.

Veterans remind us that it is through service to our country that we learn to put aside our political differences and bond together with a unity of purpose. It's in distant lands, patrolling a road or fence line, far from the comfort and safety of home that American soldiers rise to the challenge of defending this great nation. We enjoy the freedom we have today because of the contributions of thousands of individual soldiers. Unfortunately, the needs of these veterans have been shortchanged.

Veterans' health care is woefully under funded. Many veterans are forced to wait for months to even see a physician. I support increased emergency funding for the Veterans Affairs health care system because veterans shouldn't have to stand in line to receive basic services. Our veterans deserve timely, adequate health care, which is why I contacted the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs to highlight the unique needs of Utah veterans, many of whom live far from primary care facilities.

Veterans' compensation, in some cases, has been unfairly restricted. Congress must eliminate "concurrent receipt"-the rule that reduces disability payments to injured veterans if they also draw regular retirement benefits. We have long promised to fix this inequity, yet these restrictions still exist. Aren't veterans who suffer from wounds received in their service deserving of fairness in their senior years? I believe they've earned it.

As we reflect on the service of our heroes, we should remember "the freedom we enjoy is not free." America takes time to honor veterans every November 11th. Next year, on Veterans Day, I would like to stand up and say that our nation has fulfilled its promises to its soldiers and our veterans.


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November 11, 2003
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