On Saturday, I participated in the Honor Ride, a cycling event to benefit wounded warriors held every Memorial Day weekend. I joined active duty service members, veterans, including some with serious injuries. The organizer is Ride 2 Recovery, a group that helps more than 10,000 wounded veterans get rehabilitation.
It was an opportunity for me to thank our active duty military and veterans from Ohio, and to support our wounded warriors.
Each of them had a story. Some of those stories were told by missing limbs or by scars. Some had scars that cannot be seen: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries afflict between 11 and 20 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
All of our veterans deserve quality health care, and to transition to good jobs in civilian life. I believe that it is my responsibility as a United States Senator to help make that possible.
I have introduced legislation in the United States Senate that would help heal some of those invisible scars. It would improve mental health care for our active duty service members by instituting mental health assessments when our troops join and when they leave the armed forces. These assessments will help us detect changes as they happen, and catch problems early—before they can get worse. I believe that this is a commonsense policy change that can have a major impact on the lives of our veterans. I’m proud to say that I have already succeeded in getting major parts of this bill into law.
Some of those who have suffered from the effects of war the longest are tens of thousands of Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, a toxic chemical our military formerly used to remove the leaves of trees in jungle warfare. Many of these veterans suffer from tragic side effects: cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. More than 90,000 of these veterans served in ships that were exposed to Agent Orange-infected water, and the VA still has yet to grant them the health benefits they deserve. That’s wrong, and that’s why I am sponsoring a bipartisan bill called the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, to provide them with the health benefits they have earned.
Many disabled veterans have student loans, but aren’t healthy enough to work. The federal government forgives their loans, but often requires a lengthy and complicated application process, and taxes them heavily on the loan forgiveness. That’s the last thing these disabled veterans need. Two weeks ago, the United States Senate approved legislation I authored that would speed up this process. I am currently working to pass legislation I authored that would forgive this massive tax debt for those who are permanently disabled.
I’m also sponsoring the Veterans First Act, legislation that would make it easier to fire bad VA employees, improve education benefits for veterans and their families, and give GI Bill benefits to mobilized Reservists. This bill would also strengthen programs to find housing for homeless veterans, speed up the disability claim process, and launch a pilot program to cut down on the VA’s massive backlog.
Many of our heroes could not be there on Saturday. Many paid the highest price of all, and did not come home. Memorial Day is about them most of all: remembering all that they gave and all that they won, and the debt of gratitude we will always owe them.
They challenged the greatest empire the world had ever seen and won this country its independence. They preserved a union and gave our nation a new birth of freedom. They saved Europe from fascism and the world from the crushing hand of Communism. They asked nothing in return.
I am proud to be the son and grandson of two Army Infantry Lieutenants—one a veteran of World War I, and the other a veteran of World War II. On Memorial Day, I think about their example of service and of bravery.
We still live in a dangerous world. And just as the men and women who served this country throughout our history have made our freedom possible, our future will depend upon each new generation continuing to step forward and serve. We have never had freedom without bravery and we never will. That is worth remembering every day.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from the state of Ohio. He can be reached online at www.portman.senate.gov. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.