Honoring America’s Veterans Every Day
At 11:00 am on November 11, our nation collectively paused to honor America’s 23 million veterans and to remember those who had served and those who have passed on. Whether by placing flags at VA’s National Cemeteries, attending a local Veterans’ Day parade, or simply personally thanking and acknowledging a veteran’s service, America pays annual tribute to the men and women who put on the uniform and swore to defend our nation in times of war and peace.
While Veterans Day is a national holiday, veterans deserve our support every day of the year. There are many ways America shows its appreciation and gratitude to our veterans. President Reagan elevated the VA to a Cabinet-level agency to underscore the importance of our country’s debt of gratitude to our veterans. For many years, I have had the privilege of serving as Chairman or Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing veterans’ affairs.
Oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that they are offering our veterans the very best in care and benefits is a priority for me. Improving access to VA health care and timely review of VA benefits claims is essential. The VA must do a better job making sure that our wounded and disabled veterans have their claims decided in an expeditious manner. It is not enough for the VA to promote new initiatives and benefits if it still takes years for veterans to get a decision from the bureaucracy. Those who were injured in their service to our nation should not have to wait for years for the VA to determine their disability claim. Reducing the claims backlog must be the top priority for the agency. I continue to press VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to focus more attention on this critical issue.
Texas has the second largest population of veterans. More than 1.7 million veterans call Texas home. With the many important military installations located here in Texas, countless active-duty servicemen and women have been posted in the Lone Star State. After they leave the military, many return to Texas because of the diverse opportunities available and because we are a strongly pro-military, pro-veteran state.
In Texas, we have worked to ensure that VA health care is accessible to our state’s veterans. In West Texas, I helped stop the VA from closing the Big Spring VA Medical Center. If we had not succeeded, veterans throughout West Texas would have had to travel to Dallas or Fort Worth to visit a VA hospital. In South Texas, I have championed the expansion of the South Texas VA Health Center in Harlingen, which has already grown from a small clinic to a growing health center with extensive specialist care. In January, we will break ground on another expansion of the center. These improvements allow Valley veterans to receive care close to home as opposed to traveling the three hours to the VA hospital in San Antonio. These expansions of care in Harlingen are a down-payment toward a full VA hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.
I was also proud to help the VA select the Audie Murphy VA Medical Center in San Antonio as the first poly-trauma center in Texas, and only the fifth in the nation. These highly specialized centers treat the most seriously injured veterans with complete team care. Poly-trauma centers have become critical during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the battlefield survivability rate for those with multiple injuries is high. These centers allow family members and a complete medical/therapy team to coordinate care in order to most effectively help the most seriously wounded veterans.
Our veterans deserve our appreciation on Veterans Day and every day of the year. In Texas, we salute those men and women who put their country before themselves to serve the cause of liberty and freedom, here in the U.S. and on foreign shores. I am proud to serve these fine citizens in the United States Senate.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.