Veterans Day 2014: Renewing our commitment to those who served
by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
With grateful hearts, Minnesotans gather together across the state on Veterans Day to honor the brave Americans that have served in uniform to protect our freedom. This day should be about more than just saluting our veterans. It also serves as an opportunity to renew our commitment to serve those who have served us.
After all, that is our responsibility – to do right by those who have stood tall on the front lines so that we can live free. This is especially true for soldiers returning from battle permanently injured and suffering life-altering disabilities.
One of those heroes is Waseca native Sergeant Tom Block. Sergeant Block and his fellow Rangers were rooting out insurgents planning attacks in southern Afghanistan when one insurgent detonated a bomb strapped to her body. Sergeant Block suffered severe wounds and lost his right eye when he was thrown 35 feet into a minefield. Four other soldiers lost their lives during their mission.
After surviving six surgeries, teaching himself to walk again, and receiving a glass eye, Sergeant Block made an incredible recovery and got back to work. He now mentors wounded warriors, encourages soldiers to stay in the Army, and teaches courses on leadership. Sergeant Block is just one example of what our veterans can achieve when given the opportunity to recover and succeed.
Unfortunately, many of our men and women in uniform are fighting overseas to protect our pursuit of happiness, only to return home to find it out of reach for themselves and their families when they come home. This is especially true in wake of revelations that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees covered up and underreported wait times for veterans. It is completely inexcusable that veterans with serious health conditions were stuck on waiting lists, and those responsible must be held fully accountable for their actions.
Congress has worked together and passed bipartisan legislation to reform the VA and address the problem. This includes providing more funding for the VA to hire medical professionals, expanding access for veterans to seek care at non-VA facilities, and allowing the VA to quickly fire or demote underperforming senior executives. Our country has a new VA Secretary to help implement these policies and restore trust in the VA. And I have also co-sponsored a bill that would require the VA to recover any bonuses given to employees based on performance that was misrepresented.
We must also ensure veterans have access to high-quality and timely healthcare. That means allowing veterans’ medical facilities to recruit qualified mental health professionals, doctors, dentists and nurses. Especially in rural areas, there needs to be additional medical staff. To address this problem, I introduced a bill with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa that would designate VA medical facilities and state veterans homes as Health Professional Shortage Areas, allowing them to recruit health professionals who agree to practice in Health Professional Shortage Areas in return for loan forgiveness.
Fourteen years after being authorized by Congress, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial finally opened this October near the U.S. Capitol, recognizing veterans who suffered injuries that left them with a permanent disability. While this honor is long overdue, a monument alone is not enough – we must provide these heroes with the care needed to recover and opportunities needed to thrive despite their lasting wounds.