We have made a promise to our veterans, and I will always uphold my part of fulfilling that promise. This nation has sworn, as Abraham Lincoln said: “to care for him who shall have borne the battle.” Therefore, no veteran should go a night without a bed or a day without the best medical care, and I have spent my time in Congress focusing on exactly that. My office has helped hundreds of Connecticut veterans get the benefits they earned by working diligently with the state and federal Veterans Administrations. Whether it is helping to navigate a disability claim or recover a lost or stolen medal, I am always ready to use my office as an advocate for Connecticut veterans.
One of my first actions in Congress was to reaffirm my commitment to adequate veterans funding. I immediately helped pass the largest funding increase in the 77 year history of the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA), reflecting our commitment to increasing access to healthcare, improving benefits and streamlining case management.
I believe that every veteran should be able to pursue higher education when they return from service. Following World War II, the Congress passed the G.I. Bill, which guaranteed college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans. Many credit this Act for creating the vibrant middle class and the “baby-boom” generation. Since then, the G.I. Bill became out of date, not covering the full cost of modern tuition and expenses. I was proud to help correct this by passing the Post -9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, commonly referred to as the “New G.I. Bill.” I was a cosponsor of this historic measure that fully covers the cost of college, including fees for books and housing. There are over 750,000 veterans who have gone to college under the New G.I. Bill.
In January 2008, I helped pass the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act, which extended an additional three years of entirely free VA health care for all returning servicemen. The Act also expanded access to Traumatic Brain Injury treatment and care so that VA and non-VA providers alike are prepared to deal with the unique needs of wounded soldiers. The Act also helps provide age-appropriate nursing home care for older Veterans and streamlines the cluttered VA records transmission system by moving forward with fully electronic medical records.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act not only rescued our economy from the brink, but provided $1.4 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $1 billion for maintenance at VA medical facilities and $150 million for State grants for the construction of veterans’ extended care facilities.
I was also an early supporter of H.R. 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, which is a historic bill to allow Congress to fund VA medical accounts one year ahead of schedule. Over the last 22 years, 19 VA budgets have been passed late. I recognized this as unacceptable and co-sponsored this legislation that passed the house in June of 2009. This bill represents a new approach to providing adequate and timely funding for veterans’ health care. This landmark legislation is the top priority for veteran service organizations.
With so many serving our country across the globe, satisfying the housing needs of the growing number of returning veterans has been challenging in these economic times. After close consultation with leaders in the veteran community in Connecticut, it became clear to me that there was a real need to address homelessness amongst veterans in Connecticut. My position on this issue is simple; even one homeless veteran is one too many. I quickly assembled a working group of federal, state, and local officials and I was able to secure HUD-VASH housing vouchers that have since taken 400 veterans off the street. There’s still a lot of work to do though and I won’t give up on this until there are absolutely no homeless veterans in Connecticut.
To that end, I was pleased that President Obama signed H.R. 3219, the Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010, into law with my support. The new law addresses the needs of veterans by enhancing employment opportunities be providing grants for programs to provide on-the-job training, apprenticeship, real experience, and long-term employment in the jobs of the future. This bill also focuses preventing and caring for homeless veterans, and ensuring the welfare of veterans and their families.
Late last year, I introduced the Protect Veterans’ Memorials bill to make transporting stolen Veterans' memorials, monuments or plaques of any value across state lines a federal crime. The bill came amid a string of memorial plaque thefts in Connecticut, and proposes harsh federal penalties on those who commit these crimes. The Protect Veterans' Memorials Act makes it a federal felony to transport stolen veterans’ memorials of any value – as opposed to a previous $5,000 threshold - subject to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of double the amount of the item stolen or $250,000-whichever is larger.
My work on these issues is informed by a sense of awe at the service and sacrifice of our veterans, and their dedication is truly inspiring. I will continue to fight for Connecticut veterans, healthcare and benefits and do all I can to convey the thanks of a very grateful nation for all these men and women have done.