Taking care of those who have taken care of us

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By Senator Jim Webb

Each year, Veterans Day offers us a day of reflection and recognition of the sacrifices our nation’s veterans have made for our country. With one of the largest populations of veterans and active duty service members, Virginia plays a vital role in our nation’s defense. It is only proper that we honor their service and sacrifice with the necessary benefits that they have earned and deserve.

The 110th Congress boasts several important achievements for America’s veterans and service members, enacting landmark new programs in healthcare and education and providing unprecedented funding levels that demonstrate our country’s commitment to those who have honorably served in our military.

On my first day in the U.S. Senate in 2007, I introduced legislation that eighteen months later would be enacted into law as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This new program restores a full educational benefit to the members of the ‘new greatest generation’ who have honorably served our country since 9/11, in a manner similar to what the original ‘greatest generation’ received when they returned home from World War II.

In an effort spurred by our office, later joined by fellow Vietnam veteran Senator Chuck Hagel and two World War II veterans, Senators John Warner and Frank Lautenberg, we used a deliberately bipartisan approach that eventually resulted in 78 Senate co-sponsors and 303 sponsors in the House of Representatives. This new educational benefit, which will cover the full cost of a public four-year college education and provide a monthly living stipend, earned the full national endorsement of every major veterans organization, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Over five hundred Members of Congress voted for final passage of this new program. The President signed the new educational benefit into law on June 30, 2008.

Additionally, Congress passed an historic $47 billion in additional veterans’ healthcare funding for fiscal year 2009, the largest annual funding level ever. This bill will improve and expand access to healthcare for thousands of veterans, particularly those in rural areas who struggle with high gas prices as they commute long distances for care.

Congress also passed an expansive benefits package which, in addition to needed updates and enhancements for our disability compensation system, extends critical V.A. home loan programs to help veterans afford and stay in their own homes. Finally, building upon the success of the 2007 Dignified Treatment for Wounded Warriors Act, this year we enacted the Justin Bailey Mental Health Improvement Act, further enhancing treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse problems.

These important legislative accomplishments stand as testament to the high priority this Congress has placed on our nation’s veterans. As we remember those who have served in uniform this Veterans’ Day, those of us who serve in Washington will remain committed to taking care of those who have taken care of us.

Senator Jim Webb, former Secretary of the Navy, served as a Marine Corps rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam.