There are many veterans that live in our district and their issues are important to me and to my work in Congress.
We must remember our soldiers after they have completed their final mission. It is imperative that we honor the commitments made to our soldiers when they enlisted. In order to do so, I have voted to increase funding for veterans’ health care.
During the 112th Congress, I’ve been working hard to see that our Veterans get the affordable health care they need. That is why I am co-sponsoring the Military Retiree Health Care Relief Act of 2011. This act is critical because it will give military retirees a refundable tax credit for premiums paid to enroll themselves and their surviving spouses in supplementary medical insurance under Medicare. I also am co-sponsoring the Veterans Pensions Protection Act of 2011, which will increase veterans and their families’ eligibility to receive pensions by exempting from their incomes any reimbursements from theft, accident, and casualty loss. Also, my support for H.R. 1025 will ensure that all veterans are properly recognized under the law, whether they served active or reserve duty.
In the 111th Congress, I improved funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs so it could provide better health care and services, especially to female veterans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which I was proud to vote for, provided more than $2 million in federal funding to improve VA facilities in our district and provide a one-time $250 check to help veterans make ends meet. In 2010, I offered an amendment to the VA Appropriations bill that would increase funding for a program that would forgive student loans for doctors, nurses and mental health professionals who agree to work for the VA. I voted for legislation that would bring more stability to the VA’s budget and ensure the timely delivery of services by hiring more caseworkers. I also supported the Post 9/11 GI Bill that has given veterans in our area the chance for them or their family to earn a college education. I also emphasized the need for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to quickly appoint a Director at the Memphis VA Medical Center when there was a vacancy.
I voted to support retroactive stop-loss pay for active duty soldiers and veterans that had their enlistment involuntarily extended or retirement suspended.
In the 110th Congress, I cosponsored S.Con.Res. 21, which set the budget level for Veterans Affairs (VA) and included the largest veterans’ budget increase in American history -- $32 billion over the next five years. The bill ensures that funding will be used to provide excellent health care for veterans, improve the speed and accuracy of disability claims processing, and repair VA health care facilities. These improvements will help the 540,777 veterans in Tennessee and the 42,995 Tennesseans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 to receive care worthy of their sacrifice. The bill also prevented the Administration’s proposed increases in health care enrollment fees and pharmacy co-payments.
While meeting with constituents in District 9, I have heard stories of veterans who have waited for months and sometimes years to receive veterans’ disability compensation. It is unconscionable that there is a backlog of nearly 400,000 cases, which is why I voted for H.R. 2206, the Iraq Accountability Act, which provides funding for additional disability claims processing personnel to speed the processing of claims. It also includes $2 billion more than was presented in the administration’s budget for military care at Walter Reed and other hospitals, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder counseling and Traumatic Brain Injury care and research.
Also during the 110th Congress, Congress passed H.R. 3997, the Defenders of Freedom Tax Relief Act of 2007, which will rectify a long-standing problem encountered by many disabled veterans when filing for disability compensation with the VA. It allows veterans to amend their previous years' tax returns to recover income taxes on retired pay that should have been deemed tax-free disability compensation. Additionally, H.R. 3997 allows combat pay to be treated as earned income for the purpose of earned income tax credit (EITC), broadens qualifications for mortgage bonds for veterans and allows widows to place death gratuities into IRAs.
I was proud to vote for H.R. 1284, the Veterans Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2007, and H.R. 692, which allows a governor to lower the national flag to half-staff upon the death of a member of the Armed Forces from that governor’s state.
In 2007, Congress unanimously passed H.R. 327, the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act, which will help identify key indicators and symptoms in veterans that lead toward suicide attempts after returning from war zones.
I was a co-sponsor of H.R. 2247, the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act of 2007, which would repeal the 4-year limit on the use of educational assistance by members of the Selected Reserve and the ten-year limit on the use of educational assistance by members of the Ready Reserve who are separated due to disability after supporting contingency and certain other operations.
Veterans cannot be thanked enough in words for their service. I will continue to work for service men and women, so that veterans and their families can be compensated more fairly for their service and sacrifices.