As Congressman for Ohio’s Third District and a senior member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, I take seriously my responsibility to uphold the promises our nation made to its active duty service personnel and veterans. This begins with ensuring veterans’ benefits programs are strengthened and our wounded warriors receive the very best health care.
The current budget for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) builds upon the historic increase that I supported the previous fiscal year, which provided the VA with the largest funding increase in its history. Full-year funding for veterans health care, claims processing and services for FY 2009 amounts to approximately $93 billion, including $40 billion for health care and $47 billion for benefits – a seven percent increase from the Department’s $88 billion budget in FY 2008.
In March, the U.S. House passed the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act (HR 1513). This legislation would increase the rates of disability compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities, and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain service-connected disabled veterans, to help ensure that veterans’ benefits keep pace with their living expenses. The increase would equal the annual Social Security COLA increase and become effective December 1, 2009.
This month, the U.S. House passed a Supplemental Appropriations for U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (HR 2346). Included in the new funding bill are $1 billion for military health care for active duty and their families, $300 million more than the president’s budget request. An additional $1.1 billion would go to replace old and inadequate hospitals, bringing Congress’s total investment in military hospitals since 2008 to $3.3 billion. Another $488 million is allocated to build seven new complexes for wounded warrior rehabilitation, raising their total to 16 nationally.
Nearly 185,000 military personnel have been involuntarily retained in the service since stop-loss orders were issued in 2001 to bolster troop strength. Congress voted last year to compensate personnel who were affected by the stop-loss orders at any time between October 2008 to September 2009. The recently passed Supplemental bill expands this compensation to provide $500 for every month a service member served under stop-loss orders since September 11, 2001.
The U.S. House recently recognized the contributions of our servicemen and women and their families through the passage of a resolution supporting the goals and objectives of a National Military Appreciation Month (H CON RES 84). I also voted for another resolution (H CON RES 64) that passed the House this year calling on President Obama to designate 2009 as the Year of the Military Family.
Honoring our nations’ military and their families for their sacrifices is a never ending debt all America’s owe to those who’ve given their lives or lost loved ones for our freedom. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who’ve donned a military uniform or sent their son, daughter or spouse to serve and protect our nation.