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Working to treat our veterans better

Working to treat our veterans better

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Veterans Day is not just another shopping day or holiday. November 11th is a sacred day when all Americans take time to thank, salute and pray for our nation's veterans.

At least once a year, my wife and I take our two young sons to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to thank our wounded troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We want J.T. and Garrison to understand the sacrifices that have been made to protect our nation and their future.

Recently, I spent an hour speaking to a young soldier who has three young children, and yet has served two tours of duty in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. Words cannot express the debt of gratitude we as Americans feel for this soldier, his family and all our troops making personal sacrifices to keep our nation safe.

The truth is we can never fully repay the debt we owe our service men and women. Nevertheless, as a nation, we have a moral obligation to support them in a meaningful way.

As someone who represented Fort Hood, the Army's largest installation, through three combat deployments, I have seen first-hand the sacrifices of our troops and their families who are truly the unsung heroes of our nation's defense.

The tragic shooting at Fort Hood last week has deeply touched our nation.

I am hopeful that the memorial service and the outpouring of support from all across our land will allow the loved ones of our fallen heroes to know that they will not be alone in the days, months and years ahead.

Even amidst this terrible tragedy, I believe the world is seeing the Fort Hood I know, a special and unique place where the American spirit is alive and well and where the values of courage, patriotism and service to country are a way of life, every day.

It is important for Fort Hood to be known by the service and sacrifice of tens of thousands of soldiers and their families and not by the actions of one deranged person.

For the past three years, it has been my privilege to chair the House Military Construction and Veterans Appropriations Subcommit-tee. During that time, Con-gress has taken unprecedented steps in improving military family housing and day care, and more has been done to improve health care and benefits for our veterans than ever before, but there is more work to be done.

Since becoming chairman in January 2007, my focus has been to see that Congress honors veterans with deeds not just words. Once the 2010 VA Appropri-ations bill becomes law, Congress will have provided in less than three years:

* A 60 percent increase in funding for veterans health care and benefits.

* A new income threshold that allows 500,000 middle income veterans the opportunity to access VA health care services for the first time since 2003.

* 3,384 new VA doctors, 14,246 new nurses, 145 new community-based outpatient clinics, 70 new Vet Centers, 8,300 new claims processors to shorten the wait time for vets to receive their earned benefits.

* An increased travel reimbursement from 11 cents per mile to 41.5 cents per mile. (First increase since 1979, when gas was 95 cents/gallon).

* New GI Education Bill that covers the full cost of college for America's troops and veterans.

* Two-year Advance Appropriations for 2011 for VA medical care, the single highest priority for major veterans service organizations.

We must always remember our military families whose service during wartime is a powerful example of personal sacrifice. Perhaps the most gratifying thing I have ever done in Congress is to have written the new law this year that will provide a full college scholarship to every child who has lost a parent in military service since Sept. 11, 2001.

The families who have lost loved ones in service to our country deserve our nation's everlasting respect and support.

I am grateful to represent a district in which citizens and families never take for granted the sacrifice of our troops, our veterans and their families.

This Veterans Day, let us never forget that in 2009, we are the land of the free, because we are still the home of the brave.

May God bless our soldiers, our veterans and our families, and may God bless America.

* Chet Edwards is chairman of the U.S. House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. He represents the 17th Congressional District, which includes Brazos, Grimes, Madison and portions of Burleson and Robertson counties.

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