For many of us in Minnesota, the Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer – an opportunity to enjoy warm weather after a long winter. It is, of course, more than that.
Memorial Day originated following the costliest war in our history in terms of loss of life: the Civil War. This day is not about wars won and lost, medals awarded, or those of us who served. Freedom is not free, and Memorial Day is the time to honor those who have paid for our freedoms through their ultimate sacrifice.
In Congress, we’re working to honor those heroes, in part, by honoring our troops and veterans in service today.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives considered the annual national defense bill (NDAA) to ensure Congress keeps faith with our veterans, troops, and their families. As a 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps whose wife is a retired Army nurse and son has served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was pleased to play a direct role in drafting the legislation. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I joined colleagues from both sides of the aisle in shepherding this bill to overwhelming bipartisan support.
This legislation isn’t simply a rubber-stamped spreadsheet for Congress to provide the Pentagon with approval for weapons and troop strength. It is quite the opposite, actually. Included in this year’s national defense bill are numerous provisions that have a direct impact on Minnesotans, several of which I proudly championed on their behalf.
Also included in the national defense legislation, was my provision directing the Pentagon to issue a report detailing how it increased health care costs for more than 4,000 Minnesotans who were covered under the TRICARE Prime program but later removed by the Department of Defense. Now more than ever, Congress must be committed to reviewing and holding the Pentagon accountable for all changes to the TRICARE program – and advocating for the best possible health care for our servicemembers, military retirees, and their families.
This year’s NDAA also maintains my Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program which provides for a stronger and more resilient ready reserve component by making the Minnesota Guard’s own reintegration program available nationwide. Additionally, the bill includes my efforts to ensure promises are kept by providing continued funding for the DoD to pay members of Minnesota National Guard’s “Red Bulls” and reservists nationwide for their earned time off.
I also take seriously allegations of unacceptable delays for care for our veterans at VA hospitals across the nation and the issue of sexual assault in the military. As a veteran who has received care from the VA following my military career, I share the concerns of my constituents and demand accountability at the VA. I have supported legislation to provide VA the tools necessary to hold senior level leaders accountable which honors our commitment to our veterans and takes needed steps to bring real accountability to the VA. Additionally, the Congress has acted to protect our sons and daughters serving in the military from the scourge of sexual assault. Earlier this year, I authored legislation included in the annual appropriations bill signed into law that ensures no individual is allowed to enlist in the U.S Armed Forces if they have been convicted of sexual assault. The number of sexual assault victims in the military is unacceptable and I remain committed to preventing potential predators from joining our ranks.
This Monday – on Memorial Day – I look forward to joining my fellow Minnesotans at a ceremony in Dakota County to honor those better men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and ask you join me in taking a moment to remember our fallen and their families.