We have set aside Nov. 11 as Veterans Day, a special day we dedicate to those brave men and women who have risked their lives to defend our freedom. With the last Veterans Day of the century now behind us, we must reflect back on how so many Americans have fought bravely during times of war and stood vigilant during times of peace. They have made us proud.
On Veterans Day, and every day, America’s veterans deserve our thanks. They sacrificed much, and they have done without in order to help their country. In recent years, veterans programs have been cut dramatically in order to achieve a balanced budget. Now, when we have projected budget surpluses, it is time to renew our commitment to those to whom we owe so much.
Without an increase in funding for veterans programs, the Veterans Administration predicts that it will have to disenroll veterans and deny them access to VA care. Among those would be veterans exposed to Agent Orange, ionizing radiation, environmental hazards, and the “toxic soup” of the Persian Gulf. VA officials predict layoffs of at least 8,500 employees, hospital closures, and termination of many types of benefits including inpatient psychiatric and substance abuse care.
Medical Care Cutbacks
The medical care and benefits that veterans were promised have already been cut back to dangerous levels. VA Hospitals are discharging veterans with Alzheimer’s disease because of inadequate space and funding. Almost 40 percent of veterans are waiting more than one month for an appointment with a doctor. In Kentucky, a doctor was authorized to provide care to only 35 of the 500 veterans suffering from hepatitis C, an often fatal disease. Persian Gulf veterans are suffering from undiagnosed illnesses and have trouble getting proper care.
Lack of medical care is not the only pressing issue facing America’s veterans; homelessness is also a frightening reality. Among all homeless men, 40 percent are veterans. On any given night, 270,000 veterans are homeless. To help combat this problem, I strongly supported the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 1999, which increased funding for employment and training services to help veterans reenter employment and support themselves. The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives, and is a major achievement of this year.
As a senior member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I am fortunate to know many brave veterans and to work with them daily on issues that are important to the veterans community. The stories of service to one’s country that veterans tell me are often deeply moving.
Making A Difference
Too often, however, I also hear stories of how deserving American veterans are told that medical care is unavailable. I have worked hard to increase funding for veterans programs because I believe that those who have sacrificed so much for our country deserve to be well cared for.
Congress can help America’s veterans by ensuring that medical care, counseling, substance abuse treatment, and job training are available. In San Diego, you can make a difference in the lives of local veterans by volunteering your time to work with veterans. You can teach your children that the price of democracy is high , and those who pay the ultimate price deserve our gratitude and our respect for their sacrifice.
I invite each one of you to remember the veterans you have known and to take a moment to celebrate and honor their commitment to this country. They truly are American heroes.
Filner, a Democrat, represents the 50th Congressional District.