A vision for our veterans

Published 10:29 am Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stay in Washington for a couple of weeks and you’re bound to hear the phrase “on message.” Generally, the phrase is a reminder when speaking to the press or the public to keep your comments aimed in a singular direction. In the epicenter of national and global political debate, “on message” is a communications strategy built on the idea that you’ll only be heard if you frequently and continuously repeat your point.

This was a year marked with extraordinary debate and division over our nation’s pressing challenges: energy, health care, spending and the economy. The message machines on both sides of the aisle ran on overdrive for the majority of the year. And, millions of Americans — many for the first time — stood up and spoke out too. I believe our nation is better for those debates. Our policy is better for the voices willing to stand up and speak out.

I suspect, though, that many people both in Washington and around our nation look back on the year and find themselves a little more hardened than last year. Perhaps they are less receptive to working together than they might otherwise have been. After all, when one fights bitterly against a plan or idea for so long it becomes difficult to see where one might agree with those on the other side. Sometimes we’ve been “on message” for so long it’s hard to see a collective vision that we can all agree on. As we approach the start of a new year though, I want to offer my colleagues on both sides of the aisle an opportunity to work “on purpose” rather than “on message.”

This year, while Washington has been enflamed in debate, thousands of American troops have been stationed far from home and often in danger. And this Christmas for each soldier abroad, there is a family at home with an empty seat at the dinner table; a father, a mother, a son, a daughter – half way around the world not only missing their family but being missed. A career in the armed services of the United States requires extraordinary demands and sacrifices — frequent relocations, hazardous duty assignments, overseas service, extended family separations and long duty hours without extra pay. Many are left physically or mentally impacted, sometimes severely, for the duration of their lives.

Yet the reason we have been able to sustain a free, strong and secure America is due to those very men and women who have taken on the grueling demands of military service and committed to protecting our country as a member of the armed forces. Despite the contentions of this year, I believe Washington can offer a collective vision to care for those who have served. Just as our veterans have fought for the vision of America, we need to fight for a vision for them. Here is my plan to be “on purpose” for our veterans:

* Uncompromised care. Plans to expand government-run health care should not jeopardize care promised to our veterans. We should oppose increased costs for veterans’ health care and prohibit any health care reform that would endanger TRICARE and VA health care benefits.

* Excellence in hospital care. Our veterans should have excellence in hospital care. Our hospitals fall far short of this standard. We must provide oversight and stable budgeting to improve hospital care for our veterans.

* Service offered reflects service given. The service we give our veterans should reflect the service and sacrifice they have made for our nation. We must push for oversight and reforms of veterans services to ensure timely processing for disability claims.

* Support then, support now. When our veterans are ready to move into the workforce or expand their small business, I believe we can continue to support them as they support our economy. I have cosponsored legislation, H.R. 1186, that would give eligible veterans financial assistance while training to learn high-demand skill. I’ve also supported legislation, H.R. 3949, to improve benefits for veteran-owned small businesses.

* Benefits without strings. Our vision for veterans should include full concurrent receipt so veterans receive both disability compensation from the VA and retired pay or Combat-Related Special Compensation.

* Families matter. The families of our veterans matter. I have supported legislation, H.R.1182 , to provide employers a tax incentive to hire qualified military spouses and fought for legislation, H.R. 775, which would allow a spouse to be compensated for a service related death and still receive full survivor benefits.

Without the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans, our nation would certainly not be as we know it today. Our veterans have been “on purpose” for us. Are we “on purpose” for them?