Each year on Memorial Day, Americans come together to remember those who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of our country. The debt owed them is immeasurable. Their sacrifices and those of our military families are freedom’s foundation.
On this Memorial Day, our young men and women are engaged in hostilities which — in the case of Iraq — I do not agree with. Yet I and others who are opposed to the Iraq War must still salute our servicemen and women for their sacrifice. It was not they who chose to enter this war. Nor is it their duty to lead the opposition to it.
More than 3,400 Americans have died in Iraq, as well as the nearly 400 who have died in Afghanistan. Many have also been wounded: 25,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 1,200 in Afghanistan.
We honor these fallen soldiers and, for those of us opposed to the war, we continue in earnest to end this war so that no more have to die.
But aside from pursuing an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, we should take the opportunity this Memorial Day to renew our efforts to keep our promises to those still with us — the more than 24 million American vets.
Congress has passed a budget that provides the largest increase in veterans’ health care in our nation’s history. In the wake of revelations of poor care and severely degraded facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, we have passed the Wounded Warriors Assistance Act requiring improvements to military medical care system, as well as measures to address traumatic brain injury and other mental health needs.
The Democratic-led Congress has made strengthening our military and addressing the military readiness crisis the top priority for the bipartisan defense authorization bill. The war in Iraq has caused the worst U.S. military readiness crisis since the Vietnam War. These investments will boost our current force strength and readiness so we can defend our national interests and provide the best training and equipment for the men and women serving in our Armed Forces.
The new Congress is also keeping our military families in mind as it takes care of the troops. The bipartisan defense authorization bill helps support the 60,000 survivors and widows of fallen soldiers who lose survivor benefits under the Military Families Tax. It also takes steps toward ending the Disabled Veterans Tax by expanding compensation for combat-related disabled retirees who have served at least 15 years.
On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.