I hope to use this newsletter to draw attention to a little-known, but important commemoration: National Military Appreciation Month. The United States Senate first designated May as National Military Appreciation Month in 1999. In 2004, I joined many of my colleagues in the House and Senate in passing H.Con.Res.328—a more comprehensive concurrent resolution that urges the President to issue an annual proclamation calling on the American people to recognize May as a special month, and to commemorate it with appropriate ceremonies and events. During the Month of May we celebrate Loyalty Day, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Victory in Europe Day, Armed Forces Day, and Memorial Day. Each of these days is sacred in its own way, but all too often, we fail to stop and observe the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families. Federal holidays like Memorial Day are often treated as nothing more than three-day weekends, with little or no thought given to those we should be honoring on those days.
Think about where we would be without the service and sacrifice of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coastguardsmen. Think about where we would be without the service of those who fought for our fragile democracy in the years after our forefathers declared our independence. Think about the men and women who answered the call to serve each and every time our Nation faced an enemy determined to impose his will upon our way of life. And, think of the families who endure months and years without their loved ones, dutifully accepting the burden of service, and keeping watch over the homefront. We would not be who we are as a Nation were it not for their sacrifices.
In addition to participating in commemorative events honoring our brave warriors and their families, I will be working this May to ensure our Armed Forces are equipped to fight and win the wars we charge them to prosecute. There can be no better way to show our appreciation for these men and women than by giving them all they need to win and return home safely. This week, as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will participate in the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. Among the most important pieces of legislation considered each year, this bill authorizes defense spending and programs. This will be the 51st consecutive year in which such a bill has passed, and it will be the 12th such bill to which I have had the opportunity to help pass. It is my promise to you to continue to devote my time and energy to shielding our Armed Forces from damaging cuts beyond those they’ve already sustained.
Beyond supporting our active duty servicemembers, as Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am also committed to supporting these men and women when they return home. Throughout the 112th Congress, our Committee has been successful in passing several bills that have been signed into law to improve veteran health and benefit programs, including legislation to reduce veteran unemployment and improve the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
One area on which our committee has been extremely focused is improving the mental health services provided to our veterans as they transition out of the military. Scores of men and women are returning from deployment suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and the VA has not done enough to recognize and treat these medical issues. By the VA’s own estimates, a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes, and former service members represent one out of every five suicides in the United States. This is a major issue our country needs to address. On Tuesday, our committee will hold a hearing on ensuring the right quality and quantity of mental health professionals at the VA. This will be the third such hearing in the last year directly related to improving mental health care for those veterans suffering from PTS, TBI, or other mental health diseases. Simply put, we must continue to address the needs of those returning from battle by improving the mental health treatment, counseling, and services that our veterans deserve.
During this National Military Appreciation Month, I implore you to find your own way to say thank you to those who defend our Nation. There are countless organizations around the country and right here in Northwest Florida who, day in and day out, devote themselves to serving our veterans and their families. Get involved. Find the organization that touches you the most and volunteer an afternoon, a weekend, or as much time as you can afford. If you are a business owner or manager, I urge you to seek out the resident talent in our population of dedicated, disciplined, and devoted military veterans. These men and women deserve the very best from those they defend here at home.