“It is time to demonstrate the depth and breadth of our appreciation to the men and women who have kept this country safe in spite of the risk to their lives and the sacrifices required of their families.”
“The Pentagon projects that war spending will go down as we continue to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan… It is only fair that we use a small portion of those savings to invest in our returning veterans, who have given so much over the last 13 years to ensure our safety.”
Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the need to expand and improve health care and job training for our nations veterans. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Today the United States Senate will vote to advance bipartisan legislation that expands and improves the health care and job training available to our nation’s veterans. I thank the Senator from Vermont, Senator Sanders, for his leadership on this issue and for his dedication to America’s service members. The 19th century British statesman George Canning once asked, “When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” Although it is clear the world is still a perilous place, at times, the United States is finally winding down more than a decade of war in Afghanistan. And our gratitude shall not sleep.
It is time to demonstrate the depth and breadth of our appreciation to the men and women who have kept this country safe in spite of the risk to their lives and the sacrifices required of their families. The bill before the Senate would not only improve veterans’ access to health care, it would extend job training programs for service members reentering the civilian workforce. It would bolster benefits for surviving spouses and children. And it would make the Veterans’ Administration more transparent and efficient.
Senator Sanders’ legislation would allow the Veterans Administration to open 27 new clinics and medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico. These clinics will improve the quality of care and reduce travel time for our retired heroes – particularly for veterans who live in rural areas. And this legislation would help the VA work to end the backlog of claims for benefits.
Legislation contained in this package will also improve care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving their country. This measure also expands educational opportunities for recently separated veterans by securing in-state tuition rates for post-9/11 veterans at all public colleges and universities. And this measure renews the Vow to Hire Heroes Act, which has helped spur hiring of out-of-work service members and has given more than 70,000 veterans access to job training.
Unfortunately, unemployment is still too high among veterans transitioning back to civilian jobs. Last year, more than 700,000 men and women who served in the United States military were unemployed. And 200,000 veterans who served since September 11, 2001 were out of work last year. That is simply unacceptable. No one who has fought for their country overseas should have to fight for a job here at home.
Instead, we should be helping veterans – especially those who have endured more than a decade of war – to continue to serve their country as productive civilians. That’s why this legislation extends for two years a program that helps former service members get the skills they need to compete in a civilian workforce.
This legislation has the support of virtually every veterans’ organization in the country, including the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And the bill is fully paid for with the savings from winding down two wars that strained our military and financial resources for more than a decade. The Pentagon projects that war spending will go down as we continue to reduce the number of American troops in Afghanistan. This legislation will lock in those savings, establishing caps on overseas war spending for the very first time.
It is only fair that we use a small portion of those savings to invest in our returning veterans, who have given so much over the last 13 years to ensure our safety. Even with the perils of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan past for so many of our service members, our gratitude shall not sleep. We owe it to our veterans to make the transition to peace time as productive as possible.