LETTER TO THE EDITOR
By Congressman Steny H. Hoyer
On Monday, Americans across the country will celebrate Memorial Day to honor those men and women who gave their lives while protecting our freedom. Since this nation's founding, America's soldiers have been staunch and steady defenders of our democracy.
Memorial Day's origin is traced to the wives of fallen Civil War soldiers, who began the tradition of visiting their husband's graves and decorating them with flowers. Now, as then, we understand the importance of publicly recognizing the sacrifice made by our heroes in service of their fellow man. The families and loved ones of those lost should take comfort in knowing that a grateful nation shares in their pain.
Since March 2003, our nation has suffered the loss of 2,450 servicemen and women, including forty-one from the state of Maryland. These dedicated patriots made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and my thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families.
While it is important to express words of gratitude, our nation has a moral obligation to honor our fallen soldiers by providing their surviving relatives with the resources they need. Unfortunately, today's Military Families Tax unfairly penalizes the widows of those who have died from service-related injuries. I am fighting in Congress to end the Military Families Tax, which penalizes more than 50,000 survivors.
Memorial Day is also a gripping reminder of the obligation we have to those men and women fortunate enough to return from battle. There are approximately 25 million veterans in America - nearly three-fourths of whom served during war or an official period of hostility. There are more than 486,000 veterans living here in Maryland, and approximately 3,000 Marylanders are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These patriots, who have courageously accepted their country's call to duty, must receive the resources they have earned. That is why I have joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives in proposing the New GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century. The bill honors the sacrifices of our troops, veterans and their families and ensures that they receive all the benefits they deserve. It will bolster support for our troops in harms way, and pays special attention to the unique needs of the National Guard and Reserves. It provides better health care, education, and job training benefits for those who have answered the call, and affords long overdue services to disabled military retirees and military families.
In 1944, Congress enacted the original GI Bill of Rights, to honor the Greatest Generation, which ultimately won World War II. In doing so, the federal government supported returning troops with educational benefits, loans to buy a home, and medical assistance. And, in each major military conflict since (Korea and Vietnam), we have honored the service of our soldiers through a new GI bill.
Now is the time for our government to fulfill it's moral obligation to those who have fought for freedom and democracy, and renew it's pledge to adequately fund veterans' health care, including meeting the costs of care for mental health and prosthetics.
Shamefully, more than 50,000 veterans are now waiting in line for up to six months for their medical care. This problem will inevitably grow as more servicemen and women return home and enter the system.
Last week, I opposed the budget passed by Congress that triples health care fees for veterans and slashes $6 billion in veteran services over the next five years.
On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, it should be our pledge to make that same commitment to our veterans. We must honor their service by passing a modernized GI Bill of Rights, making sound investments in health care, and promising never to balance the budget on the backs of our veterans.
No other group of Americans has stood stronger and braver for democracy than our servicemen and women. Today and always, we remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who have, as Abraham Lincoln said, "given the last full measure of devotion."