This week, we’ve seen Jon and Kate inch closer to divorce, the president stand trial in the court of public opinion for fly-homicide, and another Washington elite publicize infidelity via press release.
Somewhere in-between these trivial water-cooler discussions, reality sunk in. IAVA’s Deputy Policy Director for Public Affairs, SSGT. Todd Bowers, called me from Afghanistan, where he’s deployed on his third combat tour. And no, he wasn’t trying to find out if Miss California’s been fired.
Todd was checking in to see what’s been happening in Washington for veterans, while he’s fending off the Taliban and attempting to bring stability to a war-torn country. Not only was I glad to hear his voice, but I was thrilled to let him know about the critical progress we’ve made on three top issues for veterans and their families that Todd and IAVA have been working on for years.
Congress stood up for veterans this week, and delivered retroactive overtime payments for our stop-lossed troops, a new education benefit for children of servicemembers killed since 9/11, and increased VA funding. This is big news.
Thanks to Huffington Post readers and countless other Americans who pressured their representatives in Congress, every servicemember who has been held beyond their enlistment contract under the military’s controversial stop-loss policy is a presidential signature away from their overtime payments. More than 170,000 troops have been forced to postpone their retirements, education plans, new job opportunities or family dreams since September 11th, and each could receive on average $5,000 in back-pay as compensation. That’s real money in their pockets at a critical time. Finally, more than lip service is being paid to our men and women in uniform.
Also part of the war supplemental bill, Congress is honoring the families of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice by ensuring that all children of those killed in the line of duty since 9/11 will be able to afford a college education. This “Fry Scholarship” is named after Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry. He was killed in Iraq in 2006, leaving behind three children. While nothing can replace the loss of a parent, the very least we can do is make sure that these Gold Star children have the opportunity for a bright future available to them.
And it’s important that we invest in the future of veterans’ health care as well. This week, the House of Representatives began this process by approving a landmark budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The proposed 2010 VA budget represents a 15 percent increase over 2009 levels. If passed, this budget would set the stage for the 21st Century VA that the President and Secretary Shinseki have promised. We also saw movement on IAVA’s top legislative priority for this year: advance appropriations. By funding the VA a year in advance, we can finally put an end to the late budgets that have crippled the VA’s growth and maximize existing VA funding to provide the greatest quality and quantity of care possible. This is the legacy we will leave for generations of veterans to come—no matter what President or party is in charge.
Other veterans and I joined Speaker Pelosi this week in saluting Congress for listening to the veterans’ community and taking decisive action. In just the last twenty-four hours, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle put aside partisan politics to ensure that the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform do not go unrecognized.
But these battles are not yet won, and won’t be until the ink from the President’s signature is dry. But for the troops sitting in Humvees in Iraq and with my good friend Todd in Afghanistan, they can rest assured that here at home, we’re fighting for more than just the latest iPhone.
Crossposted at IAVA.org.