In recent months, our nation witnessed a more intense campaign season than we’d ever seen. While elections and the campaigning that precede them are vitally important to our democracy, I can’t help but be concerned that amid the focus on endorsements, pundits and politics, we tend to lose sight of what is truly important.
The celebration of Veterans Day in the week following the election serves as a fitting reminder of where our priorities should be.
The service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans has protected the freedoms of our democracy and allowed us to live in the strongest, freest, greatest country in the world. Our service men and women don’t sacrifice in the name of Republicans or Democrats; they put their lives at risk for the greater good and to ensure freedom and liberty for their children and grandchildren.
America’s veterans have fought tyrants and terrorists to keep our country safe and secure. Yet even after they return home from war, veterans continue to fight battles. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans remains at 10 percent – above the national average. Suicide rates are alarmingly high among veterans and account for one-fifth of all suicides in America. Veterans in rural areas must travel long distances for health care they should be able to receive closer to home. And many must wait inordinately long periods of time for their benefits claims to be processed by the federal government.
Honoring those who served is about more than a single day – it is about keeping our promises to them. I serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee – first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate – where I am committed to making certain our veterans have the services and resources they need to succeed.
To combat unemployment, I supported the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act passed last year. VOW offers tax incentives to businesses that hire veterans and expands veteran education and job training programs. I also sponsored the Military Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Act, a new law that will improve the ability veterans and service men and women to obtain CDLs, making them more employable once they return to civilian life.
For our rural veterans, I continue to champion Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home), an initiative I introduced to help veterans receive quality health care closer to home. It remains imperative that Community-based Outpatient Clinics be properly staffed and equipped so veterans don’t have to choose between living in the community they love and getting the quality care they deserve.
Washington must also seek solutions to a truly life or death matter facing our veterans; since 2001, more veterans have died by suicide than have been killed serving in Afghanistan. This year, the Army is averaging one suicide per day. Veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) deserve help. That is why in September 2012, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted to move forward with S. 3340, the Mental Health Access to Care Act, which is designed to provide veterans with access to consistent, quality behavioral health care.
No less concerning is the amount of time it takes for a veteran to begin receiving the benefits they were promised for their service. From disability compensation and pension benefits to education benefits and health appointments – even long-overdue medals – veterans who have sought the help of my office have waited more than one year to get answers. Making certain benefit claims are processed in a timely fashion continues to be one of my top priorities. I encourage any Kansan looking for assistance with Veterans Affairs issues to utilize my office’s casework services by calling (785) 232-2605. You can also submit a casework request by visiting my website at www.moran.senate.gov.
It is a privilege to work on legislation that impacts the lives of veterans, and it is an even greater honor to meet them in person. Whether visiting with an Honor Flight veteran at the World War II Memorial, a Vietnam veteran at the local American Legion hall, a wounded warrior at Walter Reed Medical Center, or a midshipman in the mess hall of the U.S. Naval Academy, I am always struck by the stories of their service – their courage, selflessness and belief in the values of our nation. Saying “thank you” never seems adequate.
The votes have been cast and the election is over, let us now follow the example of our veterans: work together, place the common good ahead of narrow interests, and keep our promises. Together we can make certain the country they fought for remains strong for generations to come.
May God bless our servicemen and women, our veterans and the country we all love.